expansionThe head of the World Health Organization said Saturday that an “exceptional” situation in more than 70 countries could be considered a global emergency, a declaration that could spur more investment in treating the once-rare disease and heighten the scramble for rare vaccines.
The global emergency is the WHO’s highest level of alert, but the designation does not necessarily mean the disease is transmissible or particularly deadly. Similar statements were made regarding the 2016 Zika virus in Latin America and ongoing efforts to eradicate polio, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, made the decision to call monkeypox a global emergency despite a lack of consensus among experts at the WHO’s Emergency Committee, saying it was a “tie breaker”. It was the first time that the head of the UN health agency had taken such a unilateral decision without a recommendation from experts.
“We have an outbreak that has spread across the world rapidly with new routes of transmission, of which we understand very little,” Tedros said. “I know this was not an easy or straightforward process and that there are divergent views.”
The Director-General of the World Health Organization has declared monkeypox a global emergency to ensure that the world takes the current outbreaks seriously, said the head of the World Health Organization’s emergency department, Dr. Michael Ryan.
Although monkeypox has been present in parts of Central and West Africa for decades, it was not known to cause large outbreaks outside the continent or spread widely among people until May, when authorities discovered dozens of epidemics in Europe, North America and elsewhere.
Last month, a WHO expert panel said the monkeypox outbreak did not rise to the level of an international emergency, but this week the panel agreed 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 about May. So far, monkeypox deaths have only been reported in Africa, where a more serious type of virus is spreading, particularly in Nigeria and Congo.
In Africa, monkeypox is mainly spread to humans by infected wild animals such as rodents in limited outbreaks that usually have not crossed borders. However, in Europe, North America and elsewhere, monkeypox is common among people who have no connection to animals or who have recently traveled to Africa.
The World Health Organization’s chief monkeypox expert, Dr Rosamund Lewis, said this week that 99% of all monkeypox cases outside Africa were in men and that 98% of them were men who had sex with men. Experts believe that monkeypox outbreaks in Europe and North America were spread by delirium sex in Belgium and Spain.
“Although I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern at the moment, this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners,” Tedros said. “This means that this is an outbreak that can be stopped with the right strategies.”
Britain recently lowered its assessment of monkeypox after noticing any signs of widespread transmission other than in gay, bisexual or heterosexual men, and noting that the disease did not spread easily or cause severe disease.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was “supportive” of the WHO’s emergency declaration and hoped it would spur international action to stem the outbreak. The United States has reported more than 2,800 cases of monkeypox and has sent more than 370,000 doses of vaccine to US states that have reported cases.
Some experts have questioned whether such a declaration would help, arguing that the disease is not severe enough to warrant interest, and that rich nations battling monkeypox already have the funds to do so. Most people recover without needing medical attention, although the lesions can be painful.
Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said the WHO’s emergency declaration could help donors like the World Bank raise funds to stop outbreaks in both the West and Africa.
In the United States, some experts have speculated whether monkeypox is about to become an established 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 there is now widespread and unexpected transmission,” said Dr. Albert Ko, professor of public health and epidemiology at Yale University. “There are some genetic mutations in the virus that suggest why this is happening, but we need a globally coordinated response to control it.”
Koe called for an immediate increase in testing, saying there were significant gaps in monitoring.
“The cases we’re seeing are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “The window may have closed quickly for us to stop the outbreak in Europe and the United States, but it’s not too late to prevent monkeypox from causing massive damage to poor countries that lack the resources to deal with it.”
Tedros of the World Health Organization called on the world to “work together in solidarity” regarding the distribution of treatments, tests and vaccines. for monkeypox. The UN agency previously said it was working to create a mechanism to share vaccines for the worst-affected countries, but gave few details on how it would work. Unlike many companies that made COVID-19 vaccines, there is only one maker of the monkeypox vaccine, the Bavarian North of Denmark.
Dr Placid Mbala, a virologist who directs the global health department at the Congolese National Institute for Biomedical Research, said he hoped any global effort to stop monkeypox would be fair. Although countries such as Britain, Canada, Germany and the United States have requested millions of doses of the monkeypox vaccine, none have gone to Africa.
“The solution has to be global,” Mbala said, adding that any vaccines sent to Africa would be used to target those most at risk, such as fishermen in rural areas.
“Vaccination in the West may help stop the outbreak there, but there will still be cases in Africa,” he said. “Unless the problem here is resolved, the danger to the rest of the world will remain.”
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