WHO stops short of declaring monkeypox a global emergency as cases rise

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This 1997 image provided by the CDC during an investigation into an outbreak of monkeypox, which took place in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), formerly Zaire, and depicts the dorsal surfaces of the hands of a patient with monkeypox, who exhibited the appearance of the characteristic rash during his recovery phase. (CDC via AP)

The World Health Organization has decided not to declare monkeypox a global emergency despite a rapid rise in cases in Europe, opting instead to describe it as an “evolving health threat”.

Saturday’s announcement comes after the WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee met last week to discuss whether the monkeypox outbreak should be classified as a public health emergency. of International Concern, or PHEIC, which would have mobilized new funding and prompted governments to act.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the committee shared “serious concerns about the scale and speed of the current outbreak”, which he said now spans more than 50 countries, with some 3,000 cases since early May.

The committee agreed the outbreak required “coordinated action” to stop the spread of the monkeypox virus using public health measures including surveillance, contact tracing, isolation and patient care .

But there were differing opinions among committee members over whether the event already constituted a health emergency of international concern – which is the highest level of alert the WHO can issue. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was labeled PHEIC following a similar meeting in January 2020.

“Everyone is fed up with the COVID pandemic and nobody wants to hear about another kind of infectious disease outbreak. But the thing is, we’re kind of on the cusp of lockdown among men who have sex with men or whatever. And to get us where we need to go, we need global coordination and global commitment,” said Gregg Gonsalves, an infectious disease expert at the Yale School of Public Health, who is a non-voting member. of the WHO committee and think that moneypox should be declared global

The committee noted that monkeypox has been circulating in a number of African countries for decades and has been neglected in terms of research, attention and funding – a point which has already led some experts to suggest a double standard in the response to the epidemic in Europe.

“This must change not just for monkeypox but for other neglected diseases in low-income countries, as the world is once again reminded that health is an interconnected proposition,” Tedros said in a statement on Saturday.

“What makes the current outbreak of particular concern is the rapid and continued spread to new countries and regions and the risk of onward and sustained transmission to vulnerable populations, including immunocompromised people, pregnant women and children,” he added.

Tedros said on Thursday that nearly 1,500 suspected cases of monkeypox and some 70 deaths have been reported in central Africa this year.

Monkeypox is transmitted by close contact and has so far mainly affected men who have sex with men. It begins with flu-like symptoms before fluid-filled lumps or lesions appear on the skin, which can leave permanent scars. Health officials say the latest outbreak has caused genital rashes frequently, and while most cases are mild and patients recover in three weeks, the virus can be deadly and poses greater risks to pregnant women. or those with weakened immune systems.

In a separate statement on Saturday, the WHO committee noted that “many aspects of the current outbreak in several countries are unusual,” including cases recorded in countries where the virus had not previously been documented, “and the fact that the vast majority of cases are seen in young men who have sex with men who have not previously been vaccinated against smallpox.

The first case of monkeypox in the United States was detected on May 17. In the past five weeks, more than 100 cases have been added, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. California, New York and Illinois are listed as the states with the highest level of infection.

Some experts in the United States are calling on the White House to implement extensive testing to avoid pandemic failures.

Britain has the highest number of reported infections outside of central and west Africa, with nearly 800 cases of the virus recorded in the past month.

Jennifer Hassan of The Washington Post in London contributed to this report.

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