WHO says monkeypox not currently a global health emergency
GENEVA, June 26, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - The World Health Organization's chief said
Saturday that the monkeypox outbreak was a deeply concerning evolving threat
but did not currently constitute a global health emergency.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus convened a committee of
experts on Thursday to advise him whether to sound the UN health agency's
strongest alarm over the outbreak.
A surge of monkeypox cases has been detected since early May outside of the
West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic.
Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.
More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the
WHO from more than 50 countries this year.
"The emergency committee shared serious concerns about the scale and speed of
the current outbreak," noting many unknowns about the spread and gaps in the
data, Tedros said.
"They advised me that at this moment the event does not constitute a Public
Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), which is the highest level
of alert WHO can issue, but recognised that the convening of the committee
itself reflects the increasing concern about the international spread of
Tedros said the outbreak was "clearly an evolving health threat" that needed
immediate action to stop further spread, using surveillance, contact-tracing,
isolation and care of patients, and ensuring vaccines and treatments are
available to at-risk populations.
- 'Intense response' needed -
"The vast majority of cases is observed among men who have sex with men, of
young age," chiefly appearing in urban areas, in "clustered social and sexual
networks", according to the WHO report of the meeting.
While a few members expressed differing views, the committee resolved by
consensus to advise Tedros that at this stage, the outbreak was not a PHEIC.
"However, the committee unanimously acknowledged the emergency nature of the
event and that controlling the further spread of outbreak requires intense
They are on standby to reconvene in the coming days and weeks depending on
how the outbreak evolves.
The committee recommended that countries improve diagnostics and risk
It noted that many aspects of the outbreak were unusual, while some members
suggested there was a risk of sustained transmission due to the low level of
population immunity against pox virus infection.
- Knowledge gaps -
The committee that considered the matter is made up of 16 scientists and
public health experts and is chaired by Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, a former
director of the WHO's Vaccines and Immunisation Department.
Thursday's five-hour private meeting was held in person at the WHO's Geneva
headquarters and via video conference.
The committee discussed current observations of plateauing or potential
downward trends in case numbers in some countries; difficulties in contact
tracing due to anonymous contacts, and "potential links to international
gatherings and LGBTQI+ Pride events conducive for increased opportunities for
exposure through intimate sexual encounters".
They were also concerned that the potential stigmatisation of affected groups
could impede response efforts.
There are knowledge gaps on transmission modes, the infectious period, as
well as over access to vaccines and antivirals and their efficacy, they said.
- Blistery rash -
The normal initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high fever, swollen lymph
nodes and a blistery chickenpox-like rash.
Initial outbreak cases had no epidemiological links to areas that have
historically reported monkeypox, suggesting that undetected transmission
might have been going on for some time.
Few people have been hospitalised to date, while 10 cases have have been
reported among health care workers.
The WHO's current plan to contain the spread focuses on raising awareness
among affected population groups and encouraging safe behaviours and
There have been six PHEIC declarations since 2009, the last being for Covid-
19 in 2020 -- though the sluggish global response to the alarm bell still
rankles at the WHO HQ.
A PHEIC was declared after a third emergency committee meeting on January 30.
But it was only after March 11, when Tedros described the rapidly worsening
situation as a pandemic, that many countries seemed to wake up to the danger.