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Learning the lessons of mpox to prepare for future pandemics

Targeted support for marginalised communities, strong public messaging and a properly coordinated Government approach led by Ministers are amongst the recommendations contained in a new evidence-based article examining how the UK should respond to future pandemics.  

Published by The University of Manchester’s policy engagement unit, Policy@Manchester, Dr Maurice Nagington, Dr Jeremy Williams and Dr Jaime Garcia-Iglesiasset out key findings from their research on how the country tackled the 2022 outbreak of mpox, formerly known as monkeypox. 

Their conclusions were informed by interviews and focus groups with stakeholders including affected communities and healthcare workers     

The academics found shortcomings in national leadership, stark local and regional inequalities in relation to vaccine access, and inadequate communication infrastructures.”  

Theoffer advice to policymakers and public health officials in four key areas for addressing future infectious disease outbreaks, beginning with reflections on how mpox disproportionately affected marginalised communities. 

People from BAME backgrounds appeared to have lower levels of accessing the vaccine, while those from lower-income populations faced additional barriers to engaging with health and care services,” they observeSome individuals also faced challenges in self-isolation such as financial or emotional difficulties.  

They advise: “Public health teams need to be empowered to give additional support (such as financial) where necessary so people can self-isolate. 

The team argue that the needs of marginalised individuals merit equally important consideration when developing effective communications strategies, a second area examined in their article. 

“We note social media emerged as a powerful tool in the response to the mpox outbreak, facilitating rapid dissemination of information, promoting awareness, and helping collaboration of a wide range of actors involved in the mpox response,” Nagington, Williams and Garcia-Iglesias write. The reliance on social media also poses challenges, particularly in terms of equitable access to information.  

In their view, “additional forms of communication that can reach individuals who are marginalised should also be simultaneously developed during outbreaks.” They add: Community organisations play an important role in developing and distributing information that is suitable and impactful. 

Addressing a third area where they believe action is needed, the academics call for Government agencies - primarily the Department for Health and Social Care to produce guidance for local public health teams to follow, backed by additional financial support.   

They recommend: “Governments should provide Ministerial level co-ordination to ensure all relevant professionals, policymakers and community representatives work together to proactively address any emerging inequalities in the immediate outbreak and plan for future outbreaks.  

And, with knowledge gained from their research of the “pivotal role” played by sexual health services during the mpox outbreak, Nagington, Williams and Garcia-Iglesias call for policymakers and legislators to secure adequate funding and support for sexual health services to enhance their capacity to address the demands of outbreaks.  

Did the UK fail in its management of mpox? Lessons for future pandemics’ by Dr Maurice Nagington, Dr Jeremy Williams, and Dr Jaime Garcia-Iglesias can be read free of charge on the Policy@Manchester website.