WHO panel: Monkeypox not a global emergency ‘at this stage’
LONDON (AP) — The World Health Organization said the escalating monkeypox outbreak in nearly 50 countries should be closely monitored but does not warrant being declared a global health emergency.
In a statement Saturday, a WHO emergency committee said many aspects of the outbreak were “unusual” and acknowledged that monkeypox — which is endemic in some African countries — has been neglected for years.
“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, WHO said in a statement.
WHO nevertheless pointed 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 re-assessment before then if certain new 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 Ghebreysus convened the emergency committee on Thursday after describing the epidemic of monkeypox in countries that haven’t previously reported the disease as “unusual and concerning.”
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 requiring a globally-managed response 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 the ongoing effort to wipe out polio.
The emergency declaration mostly serves as a plea to draw more global 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 haven’t previously reported the disease. The vast majority of cases are in men who are gay, bisexual or have sex with other men and more than 80% of the cases are in Europe.
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