Cambodia is taking strict measures to prevent any possible spread of monkeypox after a fugitive Nigerian man who was confirmed positive for the disease by Thai health authorities was caught in Phnom Penh and admitted to Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, where he reportedly attempted to flee.
The first imported monkeypox case in the Kingdom came, coincidentally, on the same day that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the disease a “public health emergency of international concern”.
Osmond Chihazirim Nzerem, the Nigerian man who was diagnosed with monkeypox in Thailand and then fled to the Kingdom, was apprehended by Cambodian authorities in Chamkarmon district on July 23.
Nzerem is being treated for the disease, according to the Ministry of Health.
The 27-year-old man was located after just one day of searching for him and the health ministry has called on anyone who had any contact with him to quarantine and get a medical examination to ensure they are not infected in order to cut the chain of transmission of the contagious disease at its earliest stages.
“To avoid catching monkeypox, the ministry calls on all people who had contact with the Nigerian patient to stay isolated and seek health checkups or contact our medical team. Alternatively, they can contact hotline 115 to get support in obtaining a medical check-up,” said ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine.
According to Vandine, after the Kingdom received the official news that the patient had fled from Thailand to Cambodia, health officials and emergency response teams from the ministry had immediately contacted the sub-national administrations, authorities and health officials, to begin conducting an all-out search with orders to take immediate action should he be found.
Nzerem was located later that day at the Golden Guesthouse in Chamkarmon district's Tuol Tompoung commune.
In a July 24 statement, the ministry called on the public to continue to practice preventive measures against monkeypox by avoiding all physical contact with infected
patients, avoiding contact with wildlife, eating well-cooked foods, staying hygienic and frequently washing hands with soap, and going to the hospital without delay if they encounter any unusual or suspicious symptoms.
The drivers of any vehicles that took the patient to the guesthouse or anywhere else as well as others who had contact with him must go and get a medical check-up immediately, the ministry urged.
According to a video clip released on social media, three people were thought to have had close contact with the patient because they had all travelled in the same tuk-tuk – the driver, a Cambodian woman and another foreigner.
As of 5pm on July 24, Vandine said that five people who had come into contact with the Nigerian man had been found and instructed to quarantine while monitoring their health and watching for any symptoms of the illness.
“None of them has shown any symptoms that would enable us to confirm that they have caught the disease. But they all must stay isolated at their respective homes for now and follow up on their health status and report to our medical team if they have any suspicious symptoms.
“They must also respect the safety of the public and follow the instructions they’ve been given regarding self-isolation and quarantine while under the watchful eyes of the officials from the Phnom Penh Municipal Administration,” she said.
Thailand-based newspaper The Nation reported that Thai health authorities had tested Nzerem and found he was positive for monkeypox on July 18. After receiving the information that he was positive for the disease, the patient turned off his phone and fled the country.
Thai police concluded that Nzerem may have fled to Cambodia by swimming across the river under the newly built bridge in Aranyaprathet district of Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province and then continuing on to Preah Sihanouk province from there.
A video clip from inside the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital that showed the patient trying to flee again – this time from Cambodian authorities who managed to stop him – was posted to social media and quickly went viral.
Health minister Mam Bun Heng said in a July 24 letter that the public must remain vigilant now because a total of 15,734 monkeypox cases had now been detected worldwide, though only five of them have been fatal.
Since January, the disease has now been found in 75 countries spread across five world regions: Europe with 74 per cent of all cases, America with 24 per cent and Africa with two per cent along with smaller numbers of cases that have popped up in the northern Mediterranean and the south Asia-Pacific regions.
The first imported case of the disease in Cambodia came coincidently at the same time as the declaration that the disease was a global health emergency by the WHO.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced on July 24 that the disease had already spread around the world very rapidly.
For the countries with recently imported cases of monkeypox, it is recommended that they implement a coordinated response to stop transmissions, protect all vulnerable groups, engage and protect affected communities and intensify surveillance and public health measures.
He also urged all nations to strengthen clinical management and infection prevention and control in hospitals and clinics, accelerate research into the creation of monkeypox vaccines, therapeutics and other tools and determine the necessary protocols for international travel.
“Although I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern, for the moment this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men and especially those with multiple sexual partners. That means that this is an outbreak that can be stopped with the right strategies among the right groups,” he said.
The WHO chief said it was essential that all countries work closely with communities of men who have sex with men to design and deliver effective information and services to them and to adopt measures that protect their health, human rights and dignity.
“With the tools we have right now, we can stop transmission and bring this outbreak under control,” he said.