On July 23, 2022, the WHO Director-General declared the escalating global monkeypox outbreak, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). This means that the world is experiencing an outbreak of Monkeypox that has spread rapidly and has adverse repercussions on public health globally.
The declaration is important to notify countries around the world including those without a history of monkeypox like the Solomon Islands to start planning and taking actions to mitigate the potential importation, spread, and impact of monkeypox.
Therefore, following the announcement, the National Health Emergency Operation Centre (NHEOC) of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services convened a meeting this week to discuss the situation and map out necessary actions relevant at this stage.
Monkeypox is a disease caused by the monkeypox virus. Before 2022, monkeypox has been reported in central and western African Countries. In the current outbreak in 2022, globally 20,638 cases of monkeypox are registered in over 77 countries. Of these countries, 71 are the ones who have historically not reported cases of monkeypox and have now reported 20,311 cases. The remaining 327 cases have been reported from 6 cases countries where monkeypox is regularly reported. Australia with weekly flights to Honiara has also registered cases of monkeypox. As of July 27th, 2022, Australia recorded a total of 44 cases both confirmed and probable in New South Wales, Victoria, Australia Capital Territory, Queensland, and South Australia. One case of monkeypox has been reported in New Caledonia.
In the Solomon Islands, there are no reported cases of monkeypox and therefore, like COVID-19 it can only enter the country via international arrivals.
Those infected with monkeypox will typically experience symptoms which includes:
- Muscle aches and backache
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Respiratory symptoms (e.g. sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough)
- A rash that can look like pimples or blisters that appear on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body, like the hands, feet, chest, genitals, or anus.
- The rash goes through different stages before healing completely. The illness typically lasts 2-4 weeks.
Sometimes, people get a rash first, followed by other symptoms. Others only experience a rash. Symptoms usually appear one to two weeks after infection.
Infections with the type of monkeypox virus identified in this outbreak—the West African type—are rarely fatal. Over 99% of people who get this form of the disease are likely to survive. However, people with weakened immune systems, children under 8 years of age, people with a history of eczema, and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding may be more likely to get seriously ill or die.
Although the West African type is rarely fatal, symptoms can be extremely painful, and people might have permanent scarring resulting from the rash.
The majority of the cases reported globally, are still concentrated in Men who have sex with men, or gays and bisexuals. However, we in the Solomon Islands are all at risk of getting the infection as it can spread by contact with an infected individual.
Monkeypox is less infectious than COVID. It means that even if a monkeypox case enters the country, it will not spread fast like COVID-19. In most cases, its symptoms will go away within weeks, without treatment. Nevertheless, in some individuals, they can lead to medical complications and even death in 3-5% of the cases.
Risk to the Solomon Islands
Risk level to the general population in the Solomon Islands is low to moderate, level 2 in a spectrum of 1 to 5. Risks to high-priority projects, State-Owned Enterprises, and businesses including shipping has been upgraded to level 3 (moderate) due to incoming travelers.
With this, Health is now on alert for monkeypox and as part of being alert, it is working closely with partners to enhance surveillance, meaning an increased number of sentinel sites across the country to monitor monkeypox-like symptoms, and once probable cases are picked up, they will be tested.
With testing, the National Referral Hospital Laboratory is working closely with partners to mobilize reagents to enable in-country testing for monkeypox. Otherwise, samples can be sent overseas for monkeypox testing should there be a need.
In terms of risk communication and awareness, the Health Promotion team of the Ministry of Health, through the various media platforms and channels will be issuing to the public more information on monkeypox, what to do if persons experience monkeypox symptoms and how individuals, families, and communities can stay protected against monkeypox if it enters the country.
Although a vaccine against monkeypox is available in the World, at present vaccination against monkeypox in the Solomon Islands is not recommended. However, The MHMS is exploring the pre-positioning of vaccines and medicines, should there arise a need for the same in the Solomon Islands.
With the lifting of all travel restrictions into the country since July 1st, 2022, health is looking at various options to mitigate entry and will soon communicate to incoming travelers accordingly.
In the meantime, health is closely monitoring the situation in Australia and globally. There is no need to panic at this stage, however, people are once again reminded to report any cases of fever with rash, especially with international arrivals who have been to countries that reported monkeypox cases. We are also still facing the risk of importation of new variants of COVID. Thus we strongly urge communities to work with us and immediately report any cases of COVID-like or monkey-pox-like illnesses to National Health Emergency Operation Centre at toll free line 115 or 23650.