STATEMENT BY HONOURABLE MARLON PENN
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
DURING THE THIRD SITTING OF THE FOURTH SESSION OF THE FOURTH
HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
THURSDAY, 26TH MAY, 2022
OUTBREAK OF MONKEYPOX CASES IN NON-ENDEMIC COUNTRIES
Madam Speaker, officials in the Ministry of Health have been monitoring developments related to the unusual detection of monkeypox cases in countries where the virus does not normally spread, particularly given our dependence on international travel and tourism.
As of May 21, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported ninety-two (92) laboratory confirmed cases and twenty-eight (28) suspected cases of monkeypox in 12 of its Member States where the virus is not endemic. Monkeypox is not a new virus with the first case having been identified in 1970. It has been found regularly in several Central and West African countries.
This particular outbreak has gained international attention because cases have been
confirmed in several different countries at the same time and in persons with no reported travel history to countries where the virus is usually found. Additionally, while investigations are ongoing, initial information shows a high proportion of cases have been identified within sexual networks. Monkeypox however is not a sexually transmitted disease. It is transmitted by close contact with infected persons or articles that have been in close contact with infected persons.
The first case in this outbreak was announced on May 7, 2022, by the United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA). The initial patient is thought to have contracted the infection during recent travel to Nigeria. From May 6th and 20th, there were twenty (20) persons confirmed to have monkeypox in England. Since then, monkeypox cases have been reported outside of England in at least 11 other countries -
Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United States. A Technical Advisory Group at the WHO held an emergency meeting on Friday May 20, 2022, to discuss the current monkeypox outbreak situation, indicating the WHO recognizes that further spread is likely, and countries should take precautions.
Madam Speaker, there is risk of spread to the Caribbean region due to travel. Therefore, awareness is being raised among healthcare workers and Port Health Authorities across the region to ensure that adequate prevention and control measures are in place. There needs to be heightened communicable disease surveillance and monitoring of any reported cases of rash-like illness accompanied by fever. People with monkeypox initially develop symptoms such as exhaustion, fever, headaches, backache, muscle ache, chills, and swollen lymph glands. Rashes also develop within 1-3 days of fever onset firstly on the face and then on the hands, feet, and other parts of the body. Symptoms can last 2 to 4 weeks and severity depends on age. More severe disease occurs in young children.
Monkeypox is similar to smallpox and smallpox vaccine offers some protection. However, smallpox vaccine is not widely available and is no longer on the immunization schedule. Any guidance will be provided by PAHO/WHO on the matter, as necessary.
Testing for monkeypox is currently not available in the Caribbean and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is reportedly in discussion with PAHO and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to assess its capacity to develop this testing capability. In due course it is expected that CARPHA will inform member states when the capability is available and how samples will be handled.
In terms of local response, the Ministry of Health will coordinate the dissemination of information to agencies involved in Port Health and Animal Quarantine, as well as healthcare providers and regional counterparts. Many of the specific recommended actions from CARPHA are in place in the BVI, and strengthened in response to COVID-19.
Madam Speaker, although the likelihood of monkeypox spread in our community is currently low, the Chief Medical Officer and other officials will continue to monitor the situation and ensure that the Territory is prepared to detect and respond to any cases as needed, and will keep the community informed of any change in the situation.
Thank you Madam Speaker.