LONDON (AP) — The World Health Organization’s European chief warned Friday that cases of monkeypox in the region had tripled in the past two weeks and urged countries to do more to prevent the once-rare disease from gaining a foothold on the continent.
And African health authorities said they were treating the outbreak of monkeypox as an emergency and called on rich countries to share limited vaccines to avoid the stock problems seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Head of WHO in Europe Dr. Hans Kluge said in a statement that despite last week’s decision by the UN health agency, increased efforts are needed. The growing epidemic has not warranted the declaration of a global health emergency.
“Urgent and coordinated action is needed if we are to turn the tide in the race to reverse the spread of this disease,” Kluge said.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries worldwide to date. Kluge said the number of infections in Europe accounts for 90% of the global total, with 31 countries in the WHO European region having identified the cases.
According to Kluge, 99% of the data reported to the WHO were in men – men who have sex with men. But he said there were now “a small number” of family ties, including among children. Most people reported symptoms including rashes, fever, fatigue, muscle aches, vomiting and chills.
Scientists warn that anyone who has close physical contact with monkey pox or its clothes or bedding is at risk of infection. Vulnerable populations such as children and pregnant women are more likely to develop severe disease.
About 10% of patients were hospitalized for treatment or isolation, and one person was admitted to the intensive care unit. No deaths were registered.
Kluge said the problem of stigma in some countries could make some people afraid of seeking health care, and said the WHO was working with partners, including organizers of gay pride events.
Great Britain has the biggest monkey epidemic Outside of Africa, officials noted that the disease is spreading “in defined sexual networks of gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men.” British health authorities say there are no signs of persistent transmission outside these populations.
A top WHO adviser said in May that the rise in cases in Europe could be linked to men’s sexual activity. In two fun parties in Spain and Belgium.
Ahead of this weekend’s UK gay pride events, London’s chief public health doctor has asked people with symptoms of monkeypox, swollen glands or blisters to stay home.
However, in Africa, the WHO says, according to detailed data from Ghana, monkeypox is almost equally distributed between men and women and does not occur among men who have sex with men.
Kluge, the European director of the World Health Organization, also said that “the principles of equity must be applied” to the procurement of vaccines.
The main vaccine used against monkeypox was originally developed against smallpox and the European Medicines Agency This week, Monkey said it was beginning to evaluate whether smallpox should be allowed. The WHO said the supply of the vaccine, made by the Bavarian Nordic, is very limited.
Countries including the UK and Germany have begun vaccinating people at high risk of monkeypox; The UK recently expanded its vaccination program to gay and bisexual men, who have multiple sexual partners and are considered the most vulnerable.
Until May, monkeypox had never been known to cause large outbreaks outside of parts of central and western Africa, where it has sickened humans for decades, is endemic in several countries, and often causes limited outbreaks when jumping from infected wild animals to humans.
To date, nearly 1,800 cases of monkeypox have been reported in Africa, including more than 70 deaths, but only 109 have been laboratory-confirmed. Lack of laboratory diagnostics and poor surveillance mean that many cases go undiagnosed.
“This particular outbreak represents an emergency for us,” said Ahmed Ogwell, acting director of the African Centers for Disease Control.
According to the WHO, monkeypox has been reported in African countries, including South Africa, Ghana and Morocco. But more than 90% of infections on the continent are in Congo and Nigeria, says WHO Africa Director Dr. Moeti Matshidiso.
Vaccines have never been used to stop ape outbreaks in Africa; officials often relied on contact tracing and isolation.
The World Health Organization has noted that, similar to last year’s conflict over COVID-19 vaccines, countries with monkeypox vaccines have yet to share them with Africa.
“We don’t have any charity offered to (poor) countries,” said Fiona Braca, who heads the WHO’s emergency response team in Africa. “We know that some of the countries that have reserves are keeping them mostly for their own people.”
Matshidiso said the WHO was in talks with producers and countries with stockpiles to see if they could be allocated.
“We want to bring global attention to monkeypox and act as a catalyst to defeat this disease once and for all in Africa,” he said on Thursday.
Mutsaka reported from Harare, Zimbabwe.