STIGMA associated with infectious diseases makes effective management of the illnesses more difficult, according to a senior Bahrain doctor.
National Taskforce to Combat the Coronavirus monitoring committee head Lieutenant Colonel Dr Manaf Al Qahtani added that the unethical approach could prove “costly” to society as a whole.
The BDF hospital microbiologist shared his views on Twitter amidst a growing concern over monkeypox which was declared as a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO) last month.
Monkeypox is spread through close contact, primarily via direct contact with lesions, contaminated clothing or linens, or through respiratory droplets.
Sexual transmission has also been proposed as a possible route.
Bahrain has so far reported no cases of monkeypox, with the WHO providing the kingdom with diagnostic kits to help it combat the disease should it spread to the island from overseas.
“Stigmatisation complicates infectious disease management; it looms large in global health ethics because it prevents those with disease from seeking care and instils fear in those who have the disease,” said Dr Al Qahtani.
“The history of epidemics, such as leprosy, cholera, and HIV, demonstrates how costly stigma can be – both to individual patients and to societies as a whole.”
Monkeypox, a double-stranded DNA zoonotic virus, was discovered in 1958 after two outbreaks of a pox-like disease in Danish research colonies of monkeys.
Despite being called monkeypox, the disease’s origins are unknown. African rodents and primates, on the other hand, may harbour the virus and infect humans.
“By sequencing the genome, we can differentiate between different strains of the virus,” said Dr Al Qahtani.
“As a result, whether the virus is related to the monkeypox virus strain in West Africa or Central Africa can be determined – it is primarily transmitted through direct contact with mucous membranes and is not considered a venereal disease.”
All genders are equally susceptible to monkeypox, with statistics showing the majority of deaths in Africa due to monkeypox were among children.
“The infection occurs when sick pustules are transmitted to other people’s wounds or eyes, and it can also occur through inhaling particulate spray from the sick person.
“If we continue to ignore the large increase in infections in countries where the virus was not previously endemic, it may result in virus mutations that make it more effective by continuing to reproduce inside the body of a living organism.”
According to studies, monkeypox is similar to smallpox, which was eradicated 40 years ago, but less dangerous, with symptoms ranging from high fever to rashes with crusting and swollen lymph nodes.
Good personal hygiene and sexual safety are recommended to control its spread and prevent viral mutations.
Former WHO director general’s special envoy for Covid-19 Dr Maha El Rabbat agreed with Dr Al Qahtani, saying “stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus.
“Viruses don’t care about borders, gender, or nationality, and monkeypox can infect anyone, anywhere,” she told the GDN.
“Stigma really affects or jeopardises the health of people and communities. It happens naturally, it has happened with Covid-19 and it is meant to happen with any disease that has a serious effect on what affects communities.
“So what is really important is to help people be best informed on decisions and as to how to protect themselves – especially on the need to reach out for care.”
Recent studies found that the monkeypox infection was more specific to groups including gay or bisexual men.
Currently, monkeypox, which is spread in more than 80 countries, causing more than 20,000 infections within a few months, is of the type endemic to West Africa, and it is the least severe type in symptoms and danger compared to the endemic virus in Central Africa.
The UAE was the first GCC country to detect monkeypox cases with 16 found so far; Saudi Arabia has detected three cases and Qatar one.