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23rd Jul 2022

Monkeypox declared global health emergency by World Health Organisation

Dave Hanratty

Monkeypox emergency

Over 16,000 cases have now been reported from 75 countries.

Monkeypox has officially been declared as a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Speaking on Saturday (23 July) following the conclusion of the second meeting of the WHO’s emergency committee on monkeypox, director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus confirmed that the virus is now subject to the highest possible alert and thus represents “a public health emergency of international concern”.

Currently, there are only two other alerts of such significance per the WHO – the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing fight against polio.

“A month ago, I convened the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations to assess whether the multi-country monkeypox outbreak represented a public health emergency of international concern,” Ghebreyesus began.

“At that meeting, while differing views were expressed, the committee resolved by consensus that the outbreak did not represent a public health emergency of international concern.

“At the time, 3040 cases of monkeypox had been reported to WHO, from 47 countries,” he continued.

“Since then, the outbreak has continued to grow, and there are now more than 16 thousand reported cases from 75 countries and territories, and five deaths.”

Ghebreyesus noted that while the committee were unable to reach an overall consensus and that under international health regulations, he must consider five separate elements in declaring a global health emergency – information provided by countries, the criteria deemed necessary to declare the emergency, the advice of the emergency committee, scientific principles and evidence, and finally the overall risk to human health, international spread and the potential for interference with international traffic.

“WHO’s assessment is that the risk of monkeypox is moderate globally and in all regions, except in the European region where we assess the risk as high,” said Ghebreyesus.

“There is also a clear risk of further international spread, although the risk of interference with international traffic remains low for the moment.

“So in short, we have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly, through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little and which meets the criteria in the International Health Regulations,” the WHO director-general explained.

“For all of these reasons, I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.”

Ghebreyesus has recommended the acceleration of research into the use of vaccines, therapeutics and other tools, and for guidelines on international travel to be considered as part of methods to combat the outbreak.

He also noted the sensitive nature of the virus at present, underlining:

“Although I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern, for the moment this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners.

“It’s therefore essential that all countries work closely with communities of men who have sex with men, to design and deliver effective information and services, and to adopt measures that protect both the health, human rights and dignity of affected communities.”

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