WHO set to decide if monkeypox has become a ‘global health emergency’

(ORDO NEWS) — The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that it will once again convene its monkeypox experts to decide whether the worsening outbreak is now a global public health emergency – the highest level of concern.

UN health agency director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he would hold a second meeting of the monkeypox emergency committee as more than 6,000 cases have now been confirmed in 58 countries.

Monkeypox cases have been on the rise since early May outside West and Central Africa, where the disease has long been endemic.

“I remain concerned about the scale and spread of the virus,” Tedros said at a press conference from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

“Testing remains a challenge and it is highly likely that a significant number of cases have not been detected.”

On June 23, WHO convened an emergency committee of experts to decide whether monkeypox is a so-called Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), the highest level of alert the WHO can declare.

However, most experts felt that the situation had not yet crossed that threshold.

European epicenter

“My teams are monitoring the data received. I plan to reconvene the emergency committee to keep them updated on the current epidemiology and development of the monkeypox outbreak, as well as the implementation of countermeasures,” Tedros said.

“I will collect them in the week of July 18 or earlier if necessary.”

The 16-member WHO Emergency Committee on Monkeypox is chaired by Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, former Director of the WHO Department of Vaccines and Immunization.

Six PHEICs have been declared since 2009, most recently for COVID-19 in 2020, although WHO headquarters still notes a lukewarm global response to the wake-up call.

The PHEIC was declared after the third meeting of the emergency committee on 30 January of that year. But it wasn’t until March 11, when Tedros called the rapidly deteriorating situation a pandemic, that many countries seemed to wake up from the danger.

Tedros said the epicenter of the outbreak is currently Europe, where more than 80 percent of monkeypox cases worldwide have been reported this year.

In Africa, cases are emerging in countries previously unaffected by the disease, with a record number of cases in places where monkeypox has been previously experienced, he added.

Vaccines in short supply

According to the WHO, the majority of monkeypox cases so far have been in men who have sex with men, are young and predominantly in urban areas.

Common initial symptoms of monkeypox include high fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a blistering rash similar to chickenpox.

The first cases of the outbreak were not epidemiologically linked to areas where monkeypox cases were historically reported, suggesting that undetected transmission of the virus may have occurred for some time.

Tedros praised people who shared videos on social media of their symptoms and experiences with monkeypox.

“This is a positive way to get rid of the stigma around a virus that can infect anyone,” he said.

The current WHO plan to contain the spread of the virus aims to raise awareness among affected populations and encourage safe behavior and protective measures.

“WHO is working with countries and vaccine manufacturers to coordinate the exchange of vaccines, which are currently scarce and should be available to people most at risk,” Tedros said.

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