The World Health Organisation (WHO) says monkeypox infections continue to rise globally, with more than 35,000 cases across 92 countries and territories, and 12 deaths.
WHO Director General, Dr Adhanom Ghebreyesus, disclosed this while speaking at a news conference from WHO headquarters in Geneva on Wednesday.
“Almost 7,500 cases were reported last week, a 20 per cent increase over the previous week, which was also 20 per cent more than the week before,” he said.
According to him, the majority of cases are being reported from Europe and the Americas, and mostly among men who have sex with men.
Ghebreyesus said that the primary focus for all countries must be to ensure they are ready for monkeypox, and to stop transmission.
He said countries should focus on stopping monkeypox transmission by using effective public health tools, including enhanced disease surveillance, careful contact tracing, tailored risk communication and community engagement, and risk reduction measures.
Currently, global supplies of monkeypox vaccines are limited, as is data about their effectiveness, noting that WHO is in contact with manufacturers, and with countries and organisations willing to share vaccine doses.
“We remain concerned that the inequitable access to vaccines we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic will be repeated, and that the poorest will continue to be left behind,” he said.
Speaking on COVID-19, the WHO chief said COVID-19 deaths had also increased over the last four weeks, rising by 35 per cent, with 15,000 lives lost in the past week alone.
“Fifteen thousand deaths a week is completely unacceptable, when we have all the tools to prevent infections and save lives.
“Although everyone might be tired of COVID-19 but virus is not tired of us,” he said.
Omicron remains the dominant variant, with the BA.5 sub-variant accounting for more than 90 per cent of genome sequences shared in the last month.
Ghebreyesus reported that it is becoming harder to understand how the virus might be changing.
The number of sequences shared per week has fallen by 90 per cent since the beginning of the year, and the number of countries sharing sequences has also dropped by 75 per cent.
He warned that with colder weather approaching in the northern hemisphere, and people spending more time indoors, the risk for more intense transmissions will only increase.
“But none of us is helpless – please get vaccinated if you are not, and if you need a booster, get one,” he advised.
In addition, he said measures such as wearing a mask and avoiding crowds, especially indoors should be embraced.
“There is a lot of talk about learning to live with this virus. But we cannot live with 15,000 deaths a week”.
The WHO chief also highlighted the ongoing crisis in the Horn of Africa, where millions are facing starvation and disease due to drought, conflict, climate change and rising prices for food, fuel and fertiliser.
WHO has provided more than $16 million from an emergency fund to meet the needs, but more support is required.
The agency is appealing for $123.7 million which will be used to prevent and control outbreaks, treat malnutrition, and provide essential health services as well as medicines.
Ghebreyesus said the drought was compounding the “man-made catastrophe” in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopian, where war has raged for nearly two years.
Some six million people are under siege by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, he said, “sealed off from the outside world, with no telecommunications, no banking services and very limited electricity and fuel.”
According to him, as a result, they are facing multiple outbreaks of malaria, anthrax, cholera, diarrhea and more.
“This unimaginable cruelty must end. The only solution is peace.’’
He, however, appealed for greater global attention to the situation in Tigray.
“I can tell you that the humanitarian crisis in Tigray is more than in Ukraine, without any exaggeration. And I said it many months ago, maybe the reason is the colour of the skin of the people in Tigray”.