WHO is considering declaring monkeypox a global emergency as cases soar in Europe
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the committee had “serious concerns about the scale and speed of the current outbreak,” which has spanned more than 50 countries with about 3,000 cases since early May.
The committee agreed that the outbreak requires “coordinated action” to stop the further spread of the monkeypox virus through public health measures, including surveillance, contact tracing, isolation and patient care.
However, views differed among committee members as to whether the event nevertheless constituted a public health emergency of international concern – which is the highest alert level the WHO can issue. The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 was named PHEIC after a similar meeting in January 2020.
“Everyone is fed up with the COVID pandemic and no one wants to hear about another type of infectious disease outbreak. But the point is that when it comes to men having sex with men, we are on the verge of containment. … And to get us where we need to get, we need global coordination and global commitment,” said Gregg Gonsalves, an infectious disease expert at the Yale School of Public Health, who believes monkeypox should now be declared a global emergency .
Gonsalves, a non-voting adviser to the WHO’s Emergency Committee, said he was particularly concerned about a potential spike in transmission during Pride celebrations, which will take place around the world through the autumn.
Monkeypox is transmitted through close contact and has so far mostly affected men who have sex with men. It begins with flu-like symptoms before fluid-filled lumps or lesions appear on the skin that can leave permanent scars. Health officials say the recent outbreak has often resulted in genital rashes, and while most cases are mild and patients recover within three weeks, the virus can be fatal and poses a greater risk to pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems.
The committee noted that monkeypox has been circulating in a number of African countries for decades and has been neglected in terms of research, attention and funding – a point that has previously led some experts to have two things in mind when responding to the outbreak in Europe to measure measure.
“This needs to change not just for monkeypox, but for other neglected diseases in low-income countries as well, as the world is once again reminded that health is a connected issue,” Tedros said in a statement on Saturday.
“What makes the current outbreak of particular concern is the rapid, sustained spread into new countries and regions and the risk of further, sustained transmission to vulnerable populations, including those with compromised immune systems, pregnant women and children,” he added.
Tedros said Thursday that nearly 1,500 suspected cases of monkeypox and about 70 deaths have been reported in central Africa this year.
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In a separate statement on Saturday, the WHO committee noted that “many aspects of the current outbreak are unusual in several countries,” including cases registered in countries where the virus had not been previously documented, “and the fact that the vast majority of cases are observed among men who have sex with men who are young and not previously vaccinated against smallpox.”
The first case of monkeypox in the United States was detected on May 17th. More than 100 cases have been added in the past five weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. California, New York and Illinois are listed as the states with the highest rates of infection.
Some experts in the United States are urging the White House to conduct thorough testing to avoid the pandemic’s fallout.
The UK has the highest reported number of infections outside of central and west Africa, with nearly 800 cases of the virus recorded in the past month.
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Jennifer Hassan in London contributed to this report.