In the wake of the United States’ declaration of monkeypox as a public health emergency Thursday, questions are being raised about whether Canada should follow suit as case numbers continue to rise.
The American move follows a similar announcement late last month by the World Health Organization declaring monkeypox a global health emergency — and in both cases, these developments trigger more attention and, in the U.S., more money and other resources to fight the virus.
Read more: Monkeypox — U.S. declares health emergency amid outbreak
Dr. Don Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist at McGill University Health Centre, says he believes Canada, as a member state of the WHO, has an obligation to follow suit now that the UN agency has declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.
“We do need to respond accordingly,” he said. “I think formally declaring an emergency response helps sort of shepherd or steer administrations, which may be a bit ambivalent.”
Such a declaration in Canada wouldn’t have to look like the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the most recent event to prompt a Canadian declaration of a health emergency, he said.
But he said it could trigger a deployment of additional resources that would be helpful to those fighting the virus where it is spreading in Canada now — and prevent it from becoming harder to contain in the future.
Read more: Monkeypox declared a global health emergency. Are travel curbs needed?
“We have a window of opportunity right now where we have some control,” Vinh said.
“I think that what we have seen with COVID is that, if we have sort of a hodgepodge approach to this — some cities or provinces do it one way and others do it a different way — we’re going to lose our opportunity to control it.”
Canada has confirmed 931 cases of monkeypox as of Aug. 5, up from 890 two days earlier, according to Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) data. Ontario is now leading the country in case numbers, taking over from Montreal, which had been the hot spot for the virus in Canada until recently.
The number of cases is higher in the U.S. with more than 6,600 people infected with the zoonotic disease that had, until recent months, never been seen outside central and west Africa.
Canada’s monkeypox response
State governments and the Biden administration have faced criticism for their slow response to the outbreak in the U.S., with clinics in major cities such as New York and San Francisco saying they haven’t received enough of the two-shot vaccine to meet demand, and some have had to stop offering the second dose to ensure supply of first doses.
Canada has not faced the same scrutiny and, experts say, can be lauded for acting swiftly to address the outbreaks, especially in Toronto and Montreal — the two main areas of infection in the country.
The Canadian response has been notably effective in targeting the population that, to date, has happened to be the most affected — men who have sex with men — ensuring they are getting prompt and easy access to vaccines and receive education about the virus through trusted sources in their communities, says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at the Toronto General Hospital.
That’s why an emergency declaration may not make much of a difference, except perhaps in technical terms, he said.
“We have been treating this as an emergency,” Bogoch said.
Read more: ‘I just think it’s the right thing to do’: Albertans book appointments for monkeypox vaccine