GENEVA, June 9 — There is a “real” risk of monkeypox becoming established in non-endemic countries, the World Health Organisation warned on Wednesday, while also reiterating that the COVID-19 pandemic “is not over.”
“More than 1,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox have now been reported to WHO from 29 countries that are not endemic for the disease,” Anadolu Agency reported WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus said.
He said no deaths have been reported in the outbreaks, adding that the UN health agency “does not recommend mass vaccination against monkeypox.”
“Cases have been reported mainly, but not only, among men who have sex with men. Some countries are now beginning to report cases of apparent community transmission, including some cases in women,” said Tedros.
He said the spread of the disease to several non-endemic countries “suggests that there might have been undetected transmission for some time.”
“The risk of monkeypox becoming established in non-endemic countries is real,” he emphasised.
He pointed out that the “virus has been circulating and killing in Africa for decades,” with more than 1,400 suspected cases and 66 deaths across the continent just this year.
“It’s an unfortunate reflection of the world we live in that the international community is only now paying attention to monkeypox because it has appeared in high-income countries,” he added.
According to Anadolu Agency, Tedros said the perception that the COVID-19 pandemic is over is “misguided” as the virus claimed more than 7,000 lives last week.
“The pandemic is not over, and we will keep saying it’s not over until it is,” he asserted.
While cases and deaths decline globally, the WHO continues to urge caution as there is “not enough testing and not enough vaccination” worldwide, he explained.
On average, the WHO chief said some 75 per cent of health workers and people over 60 globally have been vaccinated.
The rates, however, are “much lower in low-income countries,” he said, adding that “68 countries have still not achieved 40 per cent coverage.”
“Vaccine supply is now sufficient, but demand in many countries with the lowest vaccination rates is lacking,” said Tedros.
He warned that a “new and even more dangerous variant could emerge at any time.”
The WHO is also monitoring reports of unexplained hepatitis in children around the world, according to Tedros.
“More than 700 probable cases of hepatitis of unknown cause in children have now been reported to WHO from 34 countries, and a further 112 cases are under investigation,” he said.
“At least 38 of these children have needed liver transplants, and 10 have died.”
He said the UN agency is working with countries to investigate the cause, but the five viruses that commonly cause hepatitis have not been detected in any of these cases.
“WHO receives reports of unexplained hepatitis in children every year, but a few countries have indicated that the rates they are seeing are above what is expected,” said Tedros.