THE Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is cautioning countries in the region about the potential for stigma, homophobia and discrimination that can impede the public health responses to monkeypox disease, as happened with HIV in previous years.
Speaking at PAHO's virtual press briefing on Wednesday, Mary Lou Valdez, PAHO, deputy director, noted that all cases of monkeypox continue to be reported among men who have sex with men (MSM) between the ages of 25 and 45 years.
She, however ,said: "We should be clear that anyone — regardless of their gender or sexual orientation — can get monkeypox. The pattern of transmission offers a unique opportunity for countries to work closely with affected communities to ensure people know how to protect themselves and what to do if they exhibit symptoms."
Valdez noted that early reports show that there is a lot of confusion surrounding monkeypox, stressing the need for clear communication.
"PAHO is presenting daily updates to our member states and has issued guidance for health workers to manage monkeypox cases and prevent further infections. We are also working with civil society and LGBTQ+ communities to alert at-risk groups about monkeypox symptoms and to provide information about how they can protect themselves," she added.
PAHO says 5,300 monkeypox cases have been reported across 18 countries and territories in the Americas, the majority of them in the United States, Canada and Brazil. There have been no reported deaths from the virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern on July 23. Following the declaration, executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) Dr Joy St John stressed that the Caribbean needs to guard against having emerging communicable diseases, like monkeypox established in the region.
"Monkeypox is not a disease like COVID-19. It is not airborne and demands close prolonged contact with an infected person. The way this particular monkeypox outbreak presents is different from what was reported in endemic countries. Caribbean people need to be vigilant and pay attention," he urged.
Also on the weekend, Jamaica recorded its second case of imported monkeypox. The ministry of health and wellness advised that the virus was detected in a male traveller who recently returned to the island from the United States, and was in isolation in stable condition.
Meanwhile, PAHO says it is extremely concerned about the significant drop in polio vaccination rates in the region, which is at 79 per cent, well below the 95 per cent threshold, and the lowest coverage reported since 1994.
Valdez raised the issue in light of a reported vaccine-derived two polio case in the United States. "Without adequate vaccination coverage, our region remains vulnerable to outbreaks…we cannot afford to be complacent," she stated.