WHO Considers Designating Monkeypox a Global Health Emergency

The World Health Organization (WHO) will convene an emergency committee on Thursday (23/6/2022) to consider whether the monkeypox outbreak should be declared a global emergency. Declaring monkeypox as a global emergency means the UN health agency considers the outbreak an extraordinary event and risks the disease spreading even more across borders. This status will also make the same distinction between monkeypox and the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing efforts to eradicate polio. Last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the recently identified monkeypox epidemic in more than 40 countries, mostly in Europe, as unusual and alarming.

Monkeypox has sickened people for decades in central and western Africa, where one version of the disease kills up to 10% of people. In the epidemic outside of Africa so far, no deaths have been reported. Until last month, monkeypox had not caused a sizeable outbreak outside of Africa. Scientists have yet to find any significant genetic changes to the virus and a top adviser to the WHO last month said the spike in cases in Europe was likely linked to sexual activity among gay and bisexual men at two raves in Spain and Belgium. To date, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed more than 3,300 cases of monkeypox in 42 countries where the virus is not normally seen. More than 80% of cases are in Europe. Meanwhile, Africa has seen more than 1,400 cases this year, including 62 deaths. In that regard, some experts say the WHO’s decision to act only after the disease spreads to the West could fuel the appalling injustices that have emerged between rich and poor countries during the coronavirus pandemic. Many scientists doubt that such a declaration will help curb the epidemic, as developed countries that have recorded the latest cases have moved quickly to stop it.

If the WHO were really concerned about the spread of monkeypox, they could have convened their emergency committee years ago when it resurfaced in Nigeria in 2017 and no one knows why we suddenly have hundreds of cases, said Oyewale Tomori, a virologist. Nigeria who sits on several WHO advisory groups. It’s a little strange that the WHO only calls in experts when the disease appears in white countries, he added, as quoted by The Associated Press.

David Fidler, a senior fellow in global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the WHO’s renewed attention to monkeypox amid its spread outside Africa could inadvertently exacerbate the gap between rich and poor countries seen during COVID-19. There may be valid reasons why the WHO only sounds the alarm when monkeypox spreads to rich countries, but to poorer countries, it looks like a double standard, Fidler said. He said the global community was still struggling to ensure the world’s poor were vaccinated against the coronavirus and it was unclear if Africans even wanted a monkeypox vaccine, given competing priorities such as malaria and HIV. Unless African governments specifically request a vaccine, it might be a bit demeaning to send it out in the West’s interest to stop the spread of monkeypox, Fidler said. WHO has also proposed setting up a vaccine-sharing mechanism to help affected countries, which could see doses coming into rich countries like the UK, which has the largest monkeypox outbreak outside Africa – and has recently expanded use of its vaccine. Until now, the majority of cases in Europe were in gay or bisexual men, or other men who have sex with men, but scientists warn anyone who comes into close contact with an infected person or their clothing or bedding is at risk of infection, regardless of orientation. their sex.

People with monkeypox often experience symptoms such as fever, body aches and rash; most recover within a few weeks without requiring medical treatment. Read also: South Korea reports first suspected case of monkeypox Even if the WHO declared monkeypox a global emergency, it is not clear what the impact would be. In January 2020, WHO declared COVID-19 an international emergency. But few countries paid attention until March, when the organization described it as a pandemic, weeks after many other authorities did. The WHO was later criticized for some of its missteps during the pandemic, which some experts say may have prompted a faster monkeypox response. After COVID, the WHO doesn’t want to be the last to declare monkeypox an emergency, said Amanda Glassman, executive vice president at the Center for Global Development. It may not rise to the level of an emergency like COVID, but it is still a public health emergency that needs to be addressed, he added. Salim Abdool Karim, an epidemiologist and vice chancellor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, said the WHO and others should do more to stop monkeypox in Africa and elsewhere, but was unsure that a global emergency declaration would help. There is a misplaced idea that Africa is this poor and powerless continent, when in fact, we know how to deal with epidemics, said Abdool Karim. He said stopping the outbreak ultimately depended on things like surveillance, isolating patients and public education. Maybe they need a vaccine in Europe to stop monkeypox, but here, we have been able to control it with very simple steps.