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Monkeypox Not Presently A Global Public Health Emergency – WHO

Monkeypox, a virus first discovered in monkeys in 1958 and that spread to humans in 1970, is now being seen in small but rising numbers in Western Europe and North America.

The monkeypox outbreak does not currently constitute a global public health concern, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said, although the agency called for intense response efforts to control further spread.

The rare viral disease, occurs primarily in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa, although it is occasionally exported to other regions. But since May, this year, more than 3,000 cases have emerged in 47 countries, many of which have never previously reported the disease. The highest numbers are currently in Europe, and most cases are among men who have sex with men. There have been a few hospitalizations to date and one death.

With these statistics, the head of the World Health Organisation Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus says that the Emergency Committee on the disease, under the International Health Regulations (IHR) agreed the outbreak requires “coordinated action” to stop the further spread of the monkeypox virus using public health measures, including surveillance, contact tracing, isolation and care of patients.

But there were differing views among committee members about whether the event yet constituted a health emergency of international concern — which is the highest level of global alert, which currently applies only to the COVID-19 pandemic and polio.

Conditions that could prompt re-assessment include evidence of an increased growth rate in cases over the next 21 days, the occurrence of cases among sex workers, significant spread to and within additional countries, and rising caseloads among vulnerable groups such as persons with poorly controlled HIV infection, pregnant women and children. Other situations mentioned include evidence of reverse spillover to the animal population or significant change in the viral genome.

“What makes the current outbreak especially concerning is rapid, continuing spread into new countries and regions and the risk of further, sustained transmission into vulnerable populations including people that are immunocompromised pregnant women and children,” he said.

He underscored the need for both collective attention and coordinated action through public health measures including surveillance, contact tracing, isolation and care of patients, and ensuring vaccines, treatments and other tools are available to at-risk populations and shared fairly.

The committee noted 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 that has previously led some experts to suggest a double standard in the response to the outbreak in Europe.

“This must change not just for Monkeypox but for other neglected diseases in low-income countries as the world is reminded yet again that health is an interconnected proposition,” he said.

WHO has convened hundreds of scientists and researchers to speed up research and development into Monkeypox, The UN agency urged countries to collaborate, share information, and engage with affected communities so that public health safety measures are communicated quickly and effectively.


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