Monkeypox — New Virus In Need of a Response & A New Name

Monkey pox is a reminder — we need to prepare for emergent diseases

World Health Organization director may come under fire for declaring monkey pox a global health emergency, Gwynne Dyer writes.

“COVID-19 is broadly viewed as being a ‘once in a lifetime’ or ‘once in a century’ pandemic. Modelling work based on historical data shows that this is not necessarily the case,” reported the epidemiological startup Metabiota last year. That’s because “the frequency of ‘spillover’ infectious diseases like COVID is steadily increasing.”

It’s increasing because quick-killer pandemic diseases only started thriving in human societies when we began living together in large numbers. Lethal viruses and bacteria probably always “spilled over” into human populations from time to time, but if they infected little hunter-gatherer groups of 50 or 100 people they just died out along with the victims.

The natural home of those diseases were birds and animals that lived in big flocks and herds: lots of potential victims to sustain the transmission. But when human beings started living in big civilizations and domesticated some of those animals, the pandemic diseases happily transferred across and thrived among us, too.

For most of the history of civilization, successful transfers didn’t happen all that often: big new killer pandemics only came along every 500 years or so. However, now that there are eight billion people and millions criss-cross the planet every day, the disease vectors have more opportunities to spread and they move much faster.

At the moment, according to Metabiota’s calculations, it’s even odds that we will have another new pandemic on the scale of COVID-19 in the next 25 years. More precisely, they estimate the probability of another global pandemic as deadly as COVID to be between 2.5-3.3 per cent each year. It could even arrive next year.

Monkey pox is not that disease. Despite its rapid spread to so many countries, the majority of cases are men who reported intimate sexual contact with other men. There is an existing, fully effective vaccine for it (the same one that eradicated smallpox, which no longer exists in the wild). And hardly anybody dies from it.

So WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had some explaining to do when he broke a stalemate at his “emergency committee” and decreed that monkey pox is a global emergency.

He explained that it was to speed up research on “the new modes of transmission that have allowed it to spread,” and to press countries to use vaccines and other measures to limit the numbers infected. These are all sensible things to do, but they really don’t justify declaring a global health emergency.

What he carefully avoided saying is that he really intends it as a reminder of our peril and a spur to action.

Ghebreyesus is manipulating the system in a well-meant attempt to persuade the world to build better systems for containing dangerous emergent diseases in general, and he may come under serious fire for doing so.

But you can see his point, because we haven’t learned enough from our harrowing experience with COVID.

Just spending one-hundredth of what the world spent on fighting COVID to improve global readiness for dealing with the next pandemic — building local vaccine production facilities, regional labs with good analytical capabilities, and stronger reporting networks — could spare us another two years of the misery and loss we had with this pandemic.

If that’s Ghebreyesus’s real goal with this monkey pox business, it’s all right with me.

New York joins calls for the WHO to rename monkeypox over its ‘painful and racist history’

By Euronews and AFP — 27/07/2022

Image from Stanford Medicine

City authorities in New York on Tuesday called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to rename the monkeypox virus, a name that is seen as stigmatising and may cause patients to isolate themselves rather than seek care.

“We have a growing concern for the potentially devastating and stigmatizing effects that the messaging around the ‘monkeypox’ virus can have on these already vulnerable communities,” New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan wrote in a letter to WHO’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The latter had already mentioned this possible change in mid-June when Tedros said the WHO was “working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of the monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes”.

While the WHO said at the time that an announcement on the name change would be made “as soon as possible,” there have been no new developments in the month since.

On Saturday, the global body declared an international health emergency over the outbreak, calling it “extraordinary”.

According to the city’s Health Commissioner, concerns have been raised about “the painful and racist history within which terminology like this is rooted for communities of colour”.

In his letter, Vasan recalled the negative effects of misinformation during the outbreak of the AIDS virus (HIV) or the racism suffered by Asian communities after the COVID-19 pandemic, which then US president Donald Trump referred to as the “China virus”.

“Continuing to use the term ‘monkeypox’ to describe the current outbreak may reignite these traumatic feelings of racism and stigma — particularly for Black people and other people of colour, as well as members of the LGBTQIA+ communities, and it is possible that they may avoid engaging in vital health care services because of it,” Vasan added.

Anyone can get monkeypox, but since its emergence in Europe and the United States, the virus has been spread overwhelmingly among men who have sex with men.

New York is the most affected city in the US in terms of the number of current cases, with 1,092 infections detected since the beginning of the epidemic.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been 19,188 reported cases globally in 76 countries as of Monday.

Of those cases, 18,861 infections were noted in countries that have not historically been affected by the virus.

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