Brussels, 28 July 2022 (dpa/MIA) — EU member states must step up their response to the outbreak of the monkeypox virus, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in a letter seen by dpa on Wednesday.
Writing to EU health ministers, Kyriakides called for greater cooperation to address the global health situation “where the European Union is the epicenter of detected cases.”
The rallying call to the bloc’s health ministers comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the monkeypox outbreak in more than 50 countries an “emergency of international concern.”
Reminding ministers of previous experience at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Kyriakides called for EU countries to share monkeypox case data widely across the EU.
The health commissioner also urged EU member states to step up contact tracing to stem potential virus outbreaks while speeding up work to distribute vaccines.
Kyriakides encouraged EU member states to increase public health campaigns about monkeypox but cautioned against the risk of stigmatization.
While monkeypox cases are concentrated in the demographic group of men who have sex with men, “this group should not be targeted, victimized or marginalized because of the outbreak,” Kyriakides said.
The letter follows an announcement from the European Commission to approve the vaccine Imvanex for use against the monkeypox virus in the EU, and by extension Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
In view of increasing monkeypox cases in many countries, the World Health Organization has for the first time issued concrete recommendations about sexual behaviour for those most at risk.
According to WHO figures, some 98% of the reported cases involved men who have sexual contact with multiple other men.
The WHO asked this group to, for the moment, reduce the number of sexual partners, reconsider sex with new partners, and exchange contact details with any new partners to enable follow-up if needed.
However, the organization stressed that anyone can be infected.
“In addition to transmission through sexual contact, monkeypox can also be spread in households through close contact between people, such as hugging and kissing, and on contaminated towels or bedding,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.
The outbreak can be stopped, “if countries, communities and individuals inform themselves, take the risks seriously, and take the steps needed to stop transmission and protect vulnerable groups,” Tedros said.
More than 18,000 cases from 78 countries have been reported to the WHO, with more than 70% of infections recorded in European countries, many of which had previously known virtually no monkeypox cases.