WHO declares monkeypox a global emergency

LONDON – World Health Organization says expanding monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries is an “extraordinary” situation now considered a global emergency, a declaration on Saturday could spur further investment in the treatment of the rare and exacerbating disease. more scramble Vaccines are in short supply.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the decision to issue the statement despite a lack of consensus among members of the WHO emergency committee. This is the first time the head of the United Nations health agency has taken such action.

“In short, we have an outbreak that has spread rapidly around the world through new modes of transmission that we understand so little about and that meet the criteria in international health regulations,” said Tedros.

“I know this is not an easy or simple process and there are different views among the members” of the committee, he added.

Although monkeypox has been established in many parts of Central and West Africa for decades, it is not known to cause large outbreaks outside the continent or to spread widely among humans. until May, when authorities detected dozens of outbreaks in Europe, North America and elsewhere.

Declare a global emergency meaning that the monkeypox outbreak was an “unusual event” that could spread to more countries and required a coordinated global response. WHO has previously declared a state of emergency over public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, the Zika virus in Latin America in 2016, and the ongoing effort to to eradicate polio.

The declaration of emergency primarily serves as a call to draw more global resources and attention to an outbreak. Previous announcements have had a mixed effect, with the UN health agency largely powerless to call nations to action.

Last month, a WHO expert committee said the worldwide outbreak of monkeypox had not yet reached the level of international emergency, but the committee convened this week to reassess the situation.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 74 countries since May. So far, monkeypox deaths have only been reported in Africa, where a more deadly version of the virus is spreading, mainly in Nigeria and Congo.

In Africa, monkeypox is mainly spread to humans from infected wild animals such as rodents, in limited outbreaks that often do not cross borders. However, in Europe, North America and elsewhere, monkeypox is spreading among people with no recent animal contact or travel to Africa.

WHO’s leading monkeypox expert, Dr Rosamund Lewis, said this week that 99% of all monkeypox cases outside Africa are in men, and 98% are related to men. same-sex sex. Experts suspect that monkeypox outbreaks in Europe and North America were sexually transmitted in two outbreaks in Belgium and Spain.

Michael Head, a senior researcher in global health at the University of Southampton, said it was surprising that the WHO had not declared monkeypox a global emergency, explaining that the conditions were was met weeks ago.

Some experts have questioned whether such a claim is helpful, arguing that the disease is not serious enough to warrant attention and that the wealthy nations battling monkeypox have have sufficient funds to do so; Most people recover without medical attention, although the lesions can be painful.

“I think it’s better to be proactive and overreact to problems than to wait to react when it’s too late,” says Head. He added that the WHO emergency declaration could help donors like the World Bank have funds available to prevent outbreaks in both the West and Africa, where animals are likely reservoirs. Smallpox in monkeys.

In the United States, some experts have speculated whether monkeypox may be on track to become a disease entrenched sexually transmitted disease in the country, such as gonorrhea, herpes and HIV.

“The bottom line is that we have seen a shift in the epidemiology of monkeypox where it is now,” said Dr. Albert Ko, professor of epidemiology and public health at Yale University. there was sudden and widespread contagion.” “There are several genetic mutations in the virus that show why that might be happening, but we need a coordinated global response to control it,” he said.

Ko called for an immediate rapid expansion of testing, saying that similar to the early days of COVID-19, there are significant gaps in surveillance.

“The cases we are seeing are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “The window may have closed so that we can quickly contain outbreaks in Europe and the US, but it is not too late to stop monkeypox from causing great damage to poorer countries without have the resources to handle it.”

In the US, some experts have speculated that monkeypox could become the latest sexually transmitted disease, with officials estimating that 1.5 million men are at high risk of infection.

Dr Placide Mbala, a virologist who directs the global health division at the Congo’s National Institute of Biomedical Research, said he hoped any global effort to stop monkeypox would be successful. plain. Although countries including the UK, Canada, Germany and the US have ordered millions of doses of the vaccine, none have been shipped to Africa.

“The solution needs to be global,” Mbala said, adding that any vaccine sent to Africa would be used to target those most at risk, like hunters in rural areas. .

“Vaccination in the West could help stop an outbreak there, but there will still be cases in Africa,” he said. “Unless the matter is resolved here, the risk to the rest of the world will remain.”

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