Is the world about to face another pandemic?
It is deeply concerning that right as the world looks set to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, another deadly disease is making the rounds in countries where it is rarely found. As of May 21, 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported from 12 UN member-states where this disease is not endemic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Monkeypox is endemic in parts of West and Central Africa, where it can be caught from infected wild animals such as rats, mice, and squirrels. Recently, however, cases have been detected in the UK, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, the US and even Australia.
The WHO recently convened a videoconference of international experts on monkeypox because of the reported cases. And even though experts present at the meeting stressed that the monkeypox outbreak did not resemble the same scenario that we witnessed during the early days of Covid—as monkeypox is not as easily spread—they also recommended countries and individuals to remain cautious and learn about the disease, and how to stay protected from it.
Monkeypox is similar to human smallpox. Its initial symptoms include fever, headache, muscle ache, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and exhaustion. Though human-to-human transmission typically occurs through respiratory droplets or contact with an infected patient's skin lesions, many of the current cases have been identified at sexual health clinics—leading experts to suspect that it is being spread as a sexually transmitted infection. Similar to Covid, those infected with the disease should isolate themselves. Maintaining good hygiene is a great way to combat it as well.
Scientists have already discovered that the smallpox vaccine is around 85 percent effective against monkeypox. Therefore, governments around the world as well as the private sector and WHO should set up the capacity to mass-produce the smallpox vaccine, should that become required. However, given that the world is still reeling from the tremendous harm done by Covid, it would be more beneficial for all concerned if countries took early precautionary measures to prevent any such outbreak from happening altogether. Thus, we urge countries that have already seen cases to remain cautious and carefully observe those who have been infected, and make sure the disease does not get transmitted any further.
The Bangladesh government should also keep a close eye on how the situation develops, and consider setting up mechanisms to prevent the disease from entering the country, including through stricter monitoring of incoming passengers at airports and other ports of entry. Moreover, building expertise among healthcare providers early is essential.