The world is in danger of pandemics

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for global efforts to prevent monkeypox from becoming a pandemic like COVID-19. The worrying developments of monkeypox and the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic are signalling challenges that cannot be taken lightly, requiring raised awareness and prompt response from the international community.

Monkeypox can create lesions on the skin. (Photo: Getty Images/VNA)
Monkeypox can create lesions on the skin. (Photo: Getty Images/VNA)

In recent days, the complicated development of monkeypox has cast a grey colour on the global health picture. The WHO’s European office has warned that the number of deaths from monkeypox will rise, after recording the first deaths outside of Africa. The agency said that most cases are all self-healing without treatment, but the disease can still cause serious complications. Common symptoms in patients requiring hospitalisation are when they need pain control, have a secondary infection, and in rare cases need to manage life-threatening complications such as encephalitis.

Since the beginning of May 2022, the world has recorded more than 18,000 cases of monkeypox in 78 countries, mostly in Europe. The number of infections could be much higher due to the limited capacity in some countries to test for monkeypox. In the US, a “hot spot” for monkeypox, including some cities such as New York and San Francisco declared a state of emergency. Several countries have strengthened tracing, recommending that susceptible people get vaccinated.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is still present, WHO assesses monkeypox as a major threat to public health and needs to stop the chain of transmission as soon as possible. The lessons the world has learned from the COVID-19 pandemic need to be applied to promptly respond to monkeypox before the disease rages on a large scale.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed that we can put an end to this outbreak of monkeypox if countries, communities and individuals are aware of the risks and act promptly to stop the spread of the disease, while proactively protecting vulnerable groups.

Like the COVID-19 pandemic, the key for the world to overcome monkeypox is solidarity and sharing. According to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, although the majority of cases are now in a certain community, anyone is at risk of infection. And stigma, discrimination or spreading false information on media platforms are equally dangerous “viruses”, making disease control even more difficult. At the same time, there is a shortage of monkeypox vaccines in Africa, which has the highest mortality rate from the disease in the world.

About 16 million doses of licensed vaccines are available worldwide, but they are all packaged in large batches and will take several months to be broken down into vials, according to WHO. WHO urges countries that are stockpiling vaccines to share with other countries while supplies are limited. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention urges the world to prioritise monkeypox vaccines for the “black continent”, arguing that Africa is being left behind. More than ever, the lesson on vaccine sharing needs to be translated into concrete action to respond to monkeypox.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic tends to become complicated again with the number of new cases increasing rapidly in many countries such as Australia, Malaysia, and New Zealand, pushing the world towards the risk of more pandemics. Scientists recently warned that governments and people of countries in the northern hemisphere will face more waves of COVID-19 as these countries are about to enter the third winter since the outbreak of the pandemic.

According to WHO, the spread of monkeypox can be prevented through appropriate strategies and mechanisms for the rapid and equitable sharing of vaccines globally. For nearly three years the whole world has struggled to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the lessons we have learned from this pandemic are an important foundation for effectively responding to other health crises at present and in the future.