WHO declares monkeypox an international public health emergency of concern

The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Saturday declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern.

Despite the considerations of the UN agency’s expert group in charge of assessing the crisis, which has not yet reached a consensus on this issue, the WHO chief has decided to make this declaration after understanding that the outbreak meets all the necessary requirements for it.

“We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly, through new modes of transmission, about which we know very little and which meets the criteria of the International Health Regulations,” explained the head of WHO at a press conference on Saturday.

Ghebreyesus further assured that, in general terms, “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.”

In his appearance, moreover, Dr. Ghebreyesus provided the latest infection figures. Between January 1 and July 20, 2022, 14,533 probable and laboratory-confirmed cases (including 3 deaths in Nigeria and 2 in the Central African Republic) from 72 countries worldwide were reported to WHO.

Faced with this situation, the WHO chief has called for calm and recommended countries to follow the containment protocol established for this kind of emergency. “With the tools we have now, we can stop transmission and control this outbreak,” he said.

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The head of the WHO has qualified that, “for the moment, it is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have homosexual relations, especially with multiple partners” although he has reminded that “stigma and discrimination are as dangerous as any virus”.

“In addition to our recommendations to countries, I also call on civil society organizations, including those with experience in working with people living with HIV, to work with us in the fight against stigma and discrimination,” he said.

Precisely this stigma was one of the reasons why some members of the WHO investigating committee were not in favor of making this statement, along with other factors such as the low severity of the epidemic or the possibility that a new cry of alarm “unnecessarily or artificially increase the perception of the risk of the disease.”

However, the assessment of the commission was only one of the five factors taken into account by the head of the WHO, together with the speed of spread or the aforementioned international health regulations, when finally issuing the alert, as Ghebreyesus himself recalled at the press conference.

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White House Pandemic Office Coordinator Raj Panjabi has stated that “a coordinated international response is essential to stop the spread” of this disease.

He further qualified that the decision taken by WHO to declare the current outbreak a public health emergency “is a call to action for the global community to stop the spread of this virus.”

He has also detailed that the U.S. government has “deployed a robust and comprehensive strategy” aimed at combating monkeypox, including vaccine procurement, expanded access to testing and treatment, and increased communication with communities at risk of contracting the virus.

“But this is not enough,” he added. “We must intensify our work to aggressively combat this virus and protect communities in the United States that have been affected,” he concluded.

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