World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus used his authority Saturday to declare Monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern. The action comes after an Emergency Committee convened to review the situation was unable to reach consensus.
When the Emergency Committee last met a month ago, more than 3,000 cases of monkeypox in 47 countries had been reported to the WHO. Since then, the outbreak has grown, with more than 16,000 cases reported in 75 countries. Five deaths from the disease also have been reported.
As happened the last time it met, the committee again was unable to reach consensus on whether monkeypox posed a global health threat. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says he has evaluated the information under consideration and has determined there is a clear risk of further international spread of the disease.
“So, in short, we have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly, through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little, and which meets the criteria in the International Health Regulations,” said Tedros. “For all of these reasons, I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.”
Tedros says the WHO believes monkeypox poses a moderate risk globally and in all regions, except in the European region, where it assesses the risk as high. Although there is a potential for further international spread, he says the danger of interference with international traffic remains low for now.
The monkeypox virus is spread from person to person through close bodily contact. For now, the outbreak is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners.
Since the outbreak is largely contained in one group, Tedros says monkeypox can be stopped with the right strategies in the right groups.
“It is therefore essential that all countries work closely with communities of men who have sex with men, to design and deliver effective information and services, and to adopt measures that protect the health, human rights, and dignity of affected communities,” he said. “Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus.”
Tedros says the necessary tools for tackling the outbreak are available. However, he adds the world must act together. It must act in coordination and solidarity to bring the monkeypox virus under control and prevent it from gaining a foothold in the countries where it is found.