By EARYEL BOWLEG
Tribune Staff Reporter
A Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) official revealed batches of monkeypox vaccines are on the way for countries as part of their revolving fund.
Dr Marcos Espinal, PAHO’s interim assistant director, gave this update yesterday during the organisation’s press briefing while answering a question on when The Bahamas will receive the monkeypox vaccine.
“As I said, we will expect that the countries that have committed to purchase the vaccines through (the) PAHO revolving fund are expected to receive part of their vaccines in September, where we expect to have the first batch from Bavarian Nordic. There will be a second batch in November and the third, another one in December. So (The) Bahamas, I can confirm, requested the vaccines and has signed up all the documents,” he explained.
PAHO Director Dr Carissa F Etienne stated monkeypox was declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) in July and the region is now home to the “highest burden of monkeypox cases worldwide”.
“During an August special session of the PAHO directing (council), member states requested support in obtaining access to the monkey pox vaccine. Since then, PAHO’s revolving fund for vaccines secured doses with Bavarian Nordic - making ours the first WHO region to make monkeypox vaccines available to member states but doses remain limited. So PAHO has issued recommendations to member states to prioritise available doses for high-risk groups.”
The director mentioned that with vaccines in short supply and with no effective treatment for monkeypox, countries should intensify efforts to prevent the spread of the virus in the region and “we have the means to slow down this virus”.
Effective communication is an area on which she spoke at length.
“In too many countries across our region, LGBTQ plus communities face stigma and discrimination that impacts their health and well-being. Stigma has no place in public health. It prevents those at risk from accessing information, getting tested, or seeking medical attention when they show symptoms. If we aren't proactive in overcoming these barriers, monkeypox will spread in silence,” Dr Etienne explained.
“Countries should leverage the HIV/AIDS experience and establish active awareness campaigns using pragmatic, honest targeted messages so that everyone knows how monkeypox is spread, how to identify specific symptoms and when to seek medical attention.
“PAHO has been working actively with civil society and the LGBTQ plus communities across the region to raise awareness about monkeypox symptoms and to provide information about preventive measures.”
In some parts of the world, monkeypox outbreaks have affected gay men and men who have sex with men.
Beyond communication, the PAHO director stated surveillance and testing are “our best allies” against monkeypox.
She said countries should increase and decentralise their capacity for testing, specifically for high-risk populations. Moreover, “health workers and community outreach workers” must be trained to identify symptoms and to provide their patients with correct information as well as high quality respectful care.
Director of Health Emergencies Dr Ciro Ugarte suggested what healthcare workers could do as well.
“They must be alert to identify those cases that may come with.... symptoms, but a proper interview may identify a contact, close contact with somebody who may have monkeypox. And also, of course, the communication and engagement with populations at risk, as we already said, to enable both the rapid detection but also reporting of cases isolation and monitoring of contacts - strengthening epistemological surveillance is paramount on this. We will find more cases if we look for them. Let's not have the cases come to us. We need to look for them and find them in the community in the places where we can do that so we can control this outbreak.”
To date there have been no reported local cases of monkeypox.
Meanwhile, Dr Etienne noted that over the last several weeks, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have decreased across the Americas. Despite this trend, however, hundreds of people are still dying every day from COVID-19 across the region.