Testing remains a challenge for monkeypox: WHO

by IANS |

Geneva, July 7 (IANS) Testing continues to be a challenge for the monkeypox virus that has infected more than 6,000 people in 58 countries, both endemic and non-endemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

Low testing means that cases go undetected, further increasing the risk of community spread, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press briefing on Wednesday.

He said the WHO is closely following the cases and "the scale and spread of the virus" is concerning.

"Across the world, there have now been more than 6,000 cases recorded in 58 countries. Testing remains a challenge and it's highly probable that there are a significant number of cases not being picked up," Ghebreyesus said.

Medical experts in the US and UK had earlier voiced concerns against slow testing.

American actor Matt Ford who became the first person ever with monkeypox infection to go public, also blasted the US government for the slow "pace of vaccines and testing".

"The slow response is pretty unacceptable," Ford said.

Monkeypox occurs mostly in central and western Africa, where the virus is endemic. But as part of the latest outbreak, the virus has spread to many regions of the world where it is not typically seen.

Europe has been the current epicentre of the outbreak, recording more than 80 per cent of the cases globally.

In Africa, "cases are appearing in countries not previously affected and record numbers are being recorded in places which have previous experience with monkeypox", Ghebreyesus said.

Meanwhile, the WHO chief said he plans to "reconvene the Emergency Committee" later this month that can deliberate on declaring the virus a global health emergency.

In the last meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee, held on June 23, it resolved by consensus that at this stage the outbreak should be determined to not constitute a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

The highest level of warning by the UN health agency currently applies only to the Covid-19 pandemic and polio.It has said the virus is "unusual and concerning" and an "evolving threat" but does not currently present a global health emergency.

"My teams are following the data closely, I plan to reconvene the Emergency Committee so they are updated on the current epidemiology and evolution of the outbreak, and implementation of counter measures," the WHO chief said.

"I will bring them together during the week of 18 July or sooner if needed," he added.

The global health agency is also working with countries and vaccine manufacturers to coordinate the sharing of vaccines, which are currently scarce and need to be accessible to the most at-risk people.

Ghebreyesus applauded people who are going public with the disease, and said that the WHO is working "closely with civil society and LGBTIQ+ community" to break stigmas around the virus and spread information so people can protect themselves.

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