The World Health Organization has classified the worldwide outbreak of monkeypox as a “public health emergency of international concern”, putting it on a par with diseases such as Covid-19, Ebola and polio.
It’s the highest possible classification under the International Health Regulations, and it was most recently published for Covid-19 more than two years ago. The World Health Organization does not have the authority to declare epidemics, although it began using the term Covid in early 2020.
The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced the decision on Saturday: “We have an outbreak that has spread across the world rapidly, through new transmission routes of which we know very little.”
Tedros said the WHO committee was unable to come to a decision, but nevertheless decided to make the declaration, as a watershed factor, given the International Health Regulations.
He said the overall global risk of monkeypox remained low, with the exception of Europe, where it was “high.”
Although the move has no meaningful practical impact other than sounding the alarm, it does pave the way for increased funding and stronger international cooperation on monkeypox research, which some experts have said is lacking.
The disease, which is endemic to sub-Saharan Africa and first identified decades ago, was discovered recently All inhabited continents.
More than 16,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox have been recorded so far, according to a Geneva-based health authority, mostly among men who have sex with men. The World Health Organization said at least five deaths have been reported in African countries.
Rosamund Lewis, WHO technical officer for monkeypox, emphasized that it could still be contained because it appeared to be concentrated in one demographic group.
There are also effective countermeasures available including a vaccine, commonly used against smallpox and an antiviral.
Governments raced To secure supplies from both, and in certain places – including the UK, New York City and parts of Canada – health authorities have expanded vaccination eligibility to reach individuals most at risk. Officials said some European countries were considering doing the same.
Preliminary evidence suggests the virus is mutating faster than expected, according to A Study Natural Medicine Posted last month.
People familiar with the WHO discussions said there were conflicting assessments of whether monkeypox should be classified as a public health emergency of international importance (PHEIC) when the committee responsible for making the assessment first met in June.
“There are those who want to avoid drama, those who want to increase attention, those who want to avoid criticizing the WHO for being too slow, and those who think the response will not change,” one person said.
African governments say, ‘We’ve had monkeypox decades ago and you only realize now, because the richer countries in the north have some cases and you’re making all this noise. “
Another person familiar with the discussions said the hesitation was due to concerns that the healthy body was being accused of “over the top”.
The World Health Organization said at the time that consensus had been reached and listed a number of circumstances that would lead to a review of the decision.
In 2020, the World Health Organization faced accusations of delaying in declaring Covid an emergency, with critics saying the process had become too politicized.
Josie Golding, head of epidemiology and epidemiology at the Wellcome Trust, said the world faces a “dual challenge . . . a disease endemic to Africa that has been neglected for decades, and a new outbreak affecting marginalized communities.”
“Governments must take this more seriously and work together internationally to control this outbreak,” she said.