With more than 2,100 infections in non-endemic countries, monkeypox is “real and concerning”, World Health Organisation officials said on Wednesday.
During a press conference for its Eastern Mediterranean region, WHO officials said the body will convene an emergency committee on June 23 to specifically address the rising number of monkeypox cases worldwide.
The world health body said, however, that there was no need for a mass vaccination campaign and that treatments for those infected should focus on symptoms until medications that target the virus become more widely available.
It also addressed the continuing controversy over the nomenclature of two separate types of monkeypox: the West African clade — responsible for the 2022 outbreak — and the Congo Basin (Central African) clade.
A petition protesting the labelling of the two clades was submitted to the WHO this month by a group of scientists who called for the renaming of the disease without mentioning its specific geographical origin, as this could lead to negative impressions of those countries.
The WHO's acting Regional Emergency Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Rick Brennan said during the conference that a renaming committee is currently overseeing the request and restated an earlier promise by the organisation’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, that the disease will be given a scientific name based on its genome — a practice that was not adopted when monkeypox was first discovered, resulting in the inappropriate names of its subtypes.
In response to critics who say the renaming of the illness is simply a means of pacifying the African continent before it yet again gets the short end of the stick with regard to the availability of vaccines and treatments for monkeypox, the WHO said that equitable distribution of medicines is a top priority.
This is one of the most important lessons it learnt from Covid-19, it said, when vaccine availability was markedly higher in developed countries than it was in poorer countries.
While there are not yet any medications that treat monkeypox directly, it is genetically similar to smallpox, the WHO said, which means antiviral drugs such as tecovirimat could prove to be effective in combating it.
But production of this drug has thus far been slow due to the small number of cases of the diseases it treats.
The WHO said it is currently working with manufacturers to ramp up production of monkeypox treatments as well as vaccinations, but they will initially be reserved for healthcare workers frequently exposed to the virus.
The organisation said that its Eastern Mediterranean regional office is working closely with the healthcare apparatuses of the UAE, Morocco and Lebanon, which have recorded cases among residents.
The WHO's Eastern Mediterranean Regional Director Ahmed El Mandhari said during Wednesday’s conference that the current situation remains an “outbreak” as it has not yet spread widely enough to be called an epidemic. He urged anyone experiencing symptoms to report to their nearest healthcare facility.