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Sexual Contact Not The Only Cause For Monkeypox: WHO Chief Scientist

WHO’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan tells NDTV how worried we should be about the spread of the virus now that cases have emerged in India

When it comes to the vaccines against the disease, Dr Soumya Swaminathan explains that the vaccine against Monkeypox is something on the agenda for future

New Delhi: For the last several days, Monkeypox has been a national and international headline and there are global concerns now about its spread and the pace at which it is spreading. Monkeypox was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) last week. How worried should we be about the spread of the disease, now that cases have emerged in India? WHO’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan tells NDTV that currently we know very little about this disease and we need to collect more data on the same right now.

For now, we know that the disease can spread through skin-to-skin contact, mouth-to-mouth contact and it can spread to close contacts – they don’t have to be sexual contacts, she said.

Talking about the severity of the disease, Dr Swaminathan highlighted the present case fatality rate of the outbreak calling it ‘low’ with five reported deaths out of the approximately 16,000 reported cases globally.

Also Read: Monkeypox Scare In India: How Severe Is The Disease And Should We Be Worried? Experts Explain

She also debunked the theory of Monkeypox being a sexually transmitted disease only stating that the transmission can take place even from skin to skin, face to face, mouth to mouth, and also respiratory droplets.

Currently the outbreak in Europe and America is driven by sexual contact between men and the fact that we have a number of partners in a close period of time, has helped this virus to take off in that community. It can now spread easily within families and may pass from mother to child and while an infected person is being cared for by someone else. It is not a disease that only affects gay community.

When it comes to the vaccines against the disease, Dr Swaminathan explains that the vaccine against Monkeypox is something on the agenda for future.


Once Smallpox was eradicated and the vaccination programme stopped somewhere in 1979, the generation born after that has not received the Smallpox vaccine and thus has no immunity. In a way, this outbreak must be a wake-up call, because we have to prepare ourselves for the deadly outbreak. The vaccine we have today are made for Smallpox and they are the second and third-generation vaccines but there are very limited doses, mainly with the countries that have stockpiled some of these vaccines in case there was ever another Smallpox outbreak. So, there are limited doses. There is one company that has a vaccine for Smallpox and it has been given an emergency use authorisation by several regulators, but I want to highlight that there isn’t any efficacy data yet on how it is going to work on Monkeypox so the urgent need is to collect that data. Of course, the vaccine we believe will be effective, as there is some lab data. So there are already few countries that have access to these vaccines. We hope they can collect data systematically to know the efficacy of these vaccines.

Also Read: Five Things To Know About Monkeypox

WHO along with our partner GAVI are talking to manufacturers to see how can the vaccine be developed for Monkeypox and also make access to all countries available, she added.

This Monkeypox outbreak has been a wake-up call for us, because we need to prepare ourselves for deadly outbreaks all the time, Dr Swaminathan said.

Monkeypox in India

As reported Monkeypox cases rose to 4 within a span of a month days in India, there are concerns about how to keep ourselves protected from this viral zoonotic infection are increasing. Notably, the National Capital reported its first case of Monkeypox of a 31-year-old man with no travel history, on Sunday, making it the fourth case in India. The first case of the virus was reported in the country on July 14 after a traveler from UAE returned to Kerala. While the second case of Monkeypox was reported in Kerala’s Kannur on July 18, on July 22 India reported its third case in Kerala’s Malappuram district.

Also Read: Monkeypox Outbreak: WHO Reports 14,000 Cases In Over 70 Countries

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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