The global outbreak of monkeypox has been declared a public health emergency of international concern – the strongest call to action the agency can issue.
This is the seventh time that such a declaration has been made since 2009, the most recent being for Covid-19, which was given the same label by the WHO in 2020, and follows a meeting of a committee of experts on Thursday.
A Public Health Emergency of International Concern – or PHEIC – is defined by the WHO’s International Health Regulations as “an extraordinary event that is determined to pose a risk to the public health of other States through the international spread of a disease and potentially require a coordinated international response.”
The UN health agency said the term implies that the situation is serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected, has public health implications beyond national borders and may require attention. immediate international.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, told a press conference that the committee had met on Thursday to review the latest data, but had been unable to come to a conclusion. a consensus. However, he has since decided to break the deadlock by declaring a USPPI.
“In short, we have an epidemic that has spread rapidly around the world thanks to new modes of transmission that we understand too little and that meet the criteria of international health regulations,” he said. “For all of these reasons, I have decided that the global outbreak of monkeypox represents a global health emergency of international concern.”
While he said the risk of monkeypox was “moderate” globally, it was “high” in Europe and there was “a clear risk of international spread”.
Globally, there have been 16,016 cases of monkeypox so far – including 4,132 in the past week, according to WHO data. It is now present in 75 countries and territories and there have been five deaths.
The European region has the highest number of total cases, at 11,865, and the largest increase over the past seven days, at 2,705.
Dr Rosamund Lewis, monkeypox technical lead at the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said: “There is a lot of work to be done.”
She said steps must be taken to establish the causes of risk and to reduce situations that could put people at risk so they can protect themselves. “This is how we will get to the end of this epidemic,” she said.
Monkeypox is a viral infection commonly found in animals in West and Central Africa, although it can cause outbreaks in humans. Cases are sometimes identified in countries where the virus is not endemic, but the latest outbreak is known.
While countries in Europe have been hardest hit, cases have also been reported in the United States, Canada, Australia, Nigeria, Israel, Brazil and Mexico, among others.
The WHO said the outbreak was largely in men who have sex with men who said they had recently had sex with new or multiple partners. However, experts have pointed out that anyone can catch monkeypox as it is spread through close or intimate contact, with the UN warning that some media portrayals of Africans and LGBTQ+ people “reinforce homophobic and racist stereotypes and exacerbate stigma.
Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Emergencies Programme, said: “We all know how historically it has been difficult to deal with issues like this because of stigma.”
“If nothing else, it’s about enlightened self-interest,” he added, as well as “solidarity” with those affected.
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