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Monkeypox: Stigma undermines response, WHO says

Alexandria Williams
June 15, 2022

A cluster of monkeypox cases have been detected among men who have sex with men, but the disease can spread among any group of people in close contact, say WHO officials.

Monkeypox lesions visible on a patient's skin
The latest outbreak of monkeypox started in May 2022Image: Institute of Tropical Medicine/dpa/picture alliance

Among global recorded infections, 80% of monkeypox cases have been detected in Europe, said the World Health Organization (WHO) Europe at a press briefing on Wednesday. 

The majority of the 1,160 confirmed cases come from a group of 22 nations that include EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, said Dr. Andrea Ammon, Director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

WHO calls for early coordination 

Though there have been no reported deaths from the infectious disease, the WHO called for early coordination in preventing its spread. 

Mass vaccination is not recommended at this time, but "some countries have already begun to stockpile vaccines," said the WHO's regional director Hans Kluge.

He warned against governments acting alone, without considering needs of other nations. This "can lead to damaging consequences down the road," the WHO official added.

Unusual spread of monkeypox cases

There is currently one vaccine approved for monkeypox in the EU, but little has been done to make it widely available. The WHO is currently working on a system to establish fair distribution of the vaccine through COVAX — a dispersal mechanism designed to ensure that lower-income countries receive vaccines. 

Kluge also announced the WHO released emergency funds to "rapidly establish monkeypox identification and sequencing in countries that do not yet have the tools to detect the virus in labs."

Pride celebrations will continue as planned

While the spread of monkeypox among men that have sex with men is higher than that of other groups, the disease "does not select according to gender orientation but uses opportunities to spread," explained Ammon. 

Transmission is currently being driven by skin-to-skin and mouth-to-mouth contact. Monkeypox has an incubation period of 21 days, so it is hard to detect where it arises exactly, explained WHO expert Catherine Smallwood at the meeting. 

The WHO is still trying to understand the pattern of transmission. 

Europe will host over 750 Pride events this summer. Steve Taylor, board member at EuroPride, said that the disease's concentration in the community of men who have sex with men should not be a reason to cancel Pride events. 

"Our community understands risk, but we also understand safety," said Taylor. 

Instead, EuroPride will work with the WHO to develop messaging that raises awareness of monkeypox at Pride festivities.