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EDITORIAL: While Covid-19 is still active, though in its milder variants, a new viral threat has emerged. The other day the World Health Organisation sounded the highest alarm about the fast spreading monkeypox — so named for jumping from a monkey to a human — declaring its outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.

” Appearing first in Africa in the 1970s this viral disease, causing flu-like symptoms and pus-filled skin lesions, has now spread to some 60 countries with more than 16,000 reported cases, mostly in European countries and the US. While announcing the health emergency, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there was a clear risk of further international spread, although the risk of interference with international traffic remained low for the moment.

It is good to note that health authorities in Pakistan have already been on the alert to detect infections. Last month, 20 samples were taken from people suspected of having monkeypox infection and tested at the National Institute of Health, and were found to be negative. Most of the cases turned out to be of either measles or chickenpox. But the health ministries at the Centre and in the provinces also need to take timely preventive measures to stop transmission of the virus. That calls for international collaboration on sharing vaccines and treatments.

So far, the vaccination against smallpox is reported to have shown 85 percent effectiveness in monkeypox infections. Some antiviral drugs are also said to be helpful. Britain has already stocked up on tens of thousands of smallpox vaccine doses, offering them to high-risk people and those who come in close contact with infected individuals. Earlier this month, France also started administering pre-emptive jabs to people in the high risk category, especially gay men, transsexuals and sex workers.

Those countries surely are working on finding a better cure. In fact, according to the WHO chief, the declaration of emergency is meant to help speed up the development of vaccines and the implementation of measures to limit the spread of the virus. In the meanwhile, they must shun vaccination nationalism they resorted to during the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, hoarding vaccines for their own use to the exclusion of countries in need.

Hopefully, there are enough stocks of anti-smallpox left to be shared by other nations. On its part, Pakistan needs to do two things: first and foremost to secure, from wherever possible, anti-smallpox vaccine; and second, to offer guidance to most vulnerable groups, such as gay men and transgender individuals, through public campaigns about the lurking danger and making necessary arrangements in public sector hospitals and other healthcare facilities for inoculation.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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