Monkeypox not a global emergency at this time, says WHO panel

Emergency committee said monkeypox has been neglected for years and should be closely monitored

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The monkeypox outbreak, which has reached more than 50 countries, is not a global health emergency yet, the World Health Organisation said.

A WHO emergency committee said on Saturday many aspects of the outbreak were “unusual” and acknowledged that monkeypox, which is endemic in some African countries, has been neglected for years and should be closely monitored.

“While a few members expressed differing views, the committee resolved by consensus to advise the WHO director-general that at this stage the outbreak should be determined to not constitute” a global health emergency, the WHO said in a statement.

The organisation referred to the “emergency nature” of the outbreak and said controlling its spread requires an “intense” response.

The committee said the outbreak should be “closely monitored and reviewed after a few weeks.” But it would recommend a reassessment before then if certain developments emerge, such as cases among sex workers, spread to other countries or within countries that have already had cases, increased severity of cases, or an increasing rate of spread.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus convened the emergency committee on Thursday after expressing concern about the epidemic of monkeypox in countries that have not reported the disease before.

“What makes the current outbreak especially concerning is the rapid, continuing spread into new countries and regions and the risk of further, sustained transmission into vulnerable populations including people that are immunocompromised, pregnant women and children,” Dr Tedros said.

Monkeypox has sickened people for decades in Central and West Africa, but until last month, the disease had not been known to cause significant outbreaks in multiple countries at the same time and involving people with no travel links to the continent.

Declaring a global health emergency means that a health crisis is an “extraordinary” event and that a disease is at high risk of spilling across borders.

WHO previously made similar declarations for diseases including Covid-19, Ebola in Congo and West Africa, Zika in Brazil and its effort to wipe out polio.

The emergency declaration mostly serves as a plea to draw more resources and attention to an outbreak. Past announcements have had mixed impact, given that WHO is largely powerless when trying to convince countries to act.

WHO said this week it has confirmed more than 3,200 monkeypox infections in about 40 countries that have not reported the disease before.

The vast majority of cases are in men who are gay or bisexual and more than 80 per cent of those cases are in Europe.

Updated: June 26, 2022, 8:02 PM