Monkeypox declared global emergency | ‘Outbreak has spread rapidly,’ says WHO | World News - Hindustan Times
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Monkeypox declared global emergency | ‘Outbreak has spread rapidly around the world,’ says WHO

Jul 24, 2022 02:08 AM IST

The World Health Organization declared the growing monkeypox outbreak as a global health emergency on Sunday, with the agency’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus describing it as an extraordinary situation considering the way the virus has expanded to over 75 countries

The World Health Organization declared the growing monkeypox outbreak as a global health emergency on Sunday, with the agency’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus describing it as an extraordinary situation considering the way the virus has expanded to over 75 countries.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (AP)
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (AP)

The WHO label — a “public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC)” — is designed to trigger a coordinated international response and could unlock funding to collaborate on sharing vaccines and treatments. The alert, however, does not necessarily mean a disease is particularly transmissible or lethal.

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ALSO READ | ‘There may be more new cases,’ say experts on monkeypox outbreak in US

Developed in the aftermath of the first Sars virus outbreak, the PHEIC label has been used seven times, with Covid-19 being the most recent outbreak to be classified as such. That classification was criticised as having come too late.

Ghebreyesus made the decision on calling monkeypox a global emergency despite a lack of consensus among experts on the UN health agency’s emergency committee, saying he acted as “a tiebreaker”.

Members of an expert committee that met on Thursday to discuss the potential recommendation were split on the decision, with nine members against and six in favour of the declaration.

“We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little,” Tedros told a media briefing in Geneva.

“Although I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern, for the moment this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners,” he said, cautioning against associating the disease with any groups of people. “Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus.”

He said the risk of monkeypox was moderate globally, except in Europe, where the WHO has deemed the risk as high.

Similar declarations were made for the Zika virus in 2016 in Latin America and the ongoing effort to eradicate polio, in addition to the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. But, this is the first time a UN health agency chief has unilaterally made such a decision without an expert recommendation.

WHO’s emergencies chief, Dr Michael Ryan, said the director-general declared monkeypox a global emergency to ensure that the world takes the current outbreaks seriously.

Although monkeypox has been established in parts of central and west Africa for decades, it was not known to spark large outbreaks beyond the continent or to spread widely among people until May, when authorities detected dozens of epidemics in Europe, North America and elsewhere.

Last month, WHO’s expert committee said the monkeypox outbreak did not yet amount to an international emergency, but the panel convened this week to reevaluate the situation.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 75 countries since about May.

A viral infection resembling smallpox and first detected in humans in 1970, monkeypox is less dangerous and contagious than smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980.

In Africa, monkeypox mainly spreads to people by infected wild animals like rodents in limited outbreaks that typically have not crossed borders. In Europe, North America and elsewhere, however, monkeypox is spreading among people with no links to animals or recent travel to Africa.

WHO’s top monkeypox expert, Dr Rosamund Lewis, said this week that 99% of all the monkeypox cases beyond Africa were in men and that of those, 98% involved men who have sex with men.

Three confirmed cases of the viral infection have been reported from India — all three patients recently travelled to the UAE and returned to Kerala — prompting the government to review screening of international travellers.

WHO’s Tedros called for the world to “act together in solidarity” regarding the distribution of treatments, tests and vaccines, for monkeypox. The UN agency has previously said it’s working to create a vaccine-sharing mechanism for the most-affected countries, but offered few details of how it might work. Unlike the numerous companies that made Covid-19 vaccines, there is only one maker for the vaccine used against monkeypox, Denmark’s Bavarian Nordic.

The European Union’s drug watchdog on Friday recommended for approval the use of Imvanex, a smallpox vaccine, to treat monkeypox.

The first symptoms of monkeypox are fever, headaches, muscle pain and back pain during the course of five days.

Rashes subsequently appear on the face, the palms of hands and soles of the feet, followed by lesions, spots and finally scabs.

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