A new public health concern has emerged since a Pakistani arriving at the Islamabad airport from Saudi Arabia on April 17 tested positive for mpox — a preferred term for monkeypox. Thanks to the detect, trace and track mechanism put in place during the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, the patient was identified and admitted to an isolation ward in the PIMS hospital. And 22 people who interacted with him during the flight and at the airport were also tested for the infection. One other person was found to have contracted the mpox virus, which is highly contagious. Common symptoms, according to the WHO (World Health Organisation), are skin rashes, or mucosal lesions, accompanied by fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, low energy and swollen lymph nodes. Although in most cases mpox is not a fatal disease, it can cause health complications for children, pregnant women and those having weak ability to fight infections and other diseases.

There may be no need to worry about it. But it is important to inform the people about the risk of catching the infection to stay safe. With people travelling everywhere the risk has increased manifold. In May of last year, thousands of cases of the infection were reported in several countries of Europe and North America. The Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) spokesman has reacted badly to news coverage of the two confirmed cases of mpox, accusing the media of creating “unnecessary hype” about the viral disease. There is no evidence of local outbreak of the disease, he added. Objective reporting regarding surfacing of a health menace should not be seen as fuelling a public health scare. Those in positions of authority often times create trust deficit when they make careless and ill-informed statements, such as when NHS parliamentary secretary Dr Shazia Sobia Aslam Soomro told the National Assembly that treatment for mpox will soon be available in the market. A press report quotes a senior official of the ministry as saying there is no vaccine available for the virus; symptomatic treatment is given to patients, such as paracetamol if the patient has fever, and antibiotic creams for rashes. Smallpox vaccine is used in some cases, but it is not considered proper treatment.

Scientists are warning of significantly increasing threat of viral disease outbreaks in the coming years due to climate change. That calls for strengthening capacities to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases. Instead in the last budget, allocation for the NHS was reduced by eight times from Rs 154 billion to 19 billion. Spending on our grossly inadequate healthcare system must be raised to better prepare for the impending threats. The time to start doing that is now.