World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has declared monkeypox to be a “global health emergency.” He announced on Saturday that he has decided the outbreak to be an emergency of “international concern.”
The expert International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the WHO met last Thursday to determine if the monkeypox outbreak should be classified as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).
Nine of the virologists, epidemiologists, and vaccinologists who are part of the committee voted against the PHEIC declaration. Only six members voted in favor of the proposed escalation. As a result, the committee issued a resolution to advise Tedros that at this time the monkeypox outbreak should not be classified as a PHEIC.
The committee did agree unanimously that controlling the further spread of the outbreak “requires intense response efforts.” It advised that the outbreak should be closely monitored and reviewed after more information becomes available in the coming weeks.
The Director-General decided to override the committee’s findings in making a unilateral decision to elevate monkeypox to a PHEIC, which is the highest level of alert the WHO issues.
The declaration authorizes the WHO to make formal recommendations to member nations to contain an outbreak of illness. It also is intended to raise public awareness and mobilize resources and funding in an effort to combat the emergency.
This marks the seventh time since 2007 that the WHO has declared a PHEIC. The others included the COVID-19 pandemic and outbreaks of poliovirus, Zika, Ebola, and the H1N1 influenza virus over the years.
Tedros said that although he is declaring a PHEIC, he wanted to remind member nations that monkeypox is “concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners.” He said that fact means the outbreak could be ended with “the right strategies in the right groups.”
He also said that “stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported there have been at least 16,000 cases of monkeypox infection across 74 nations this year. Inside the U.S. there have been almost 3,000 cases.
New York has 679 current cases, with 94% of those reported in New York City.
There have been five reported deaths from the virus globally. The CDC reported that those deaths all occurred in African nations.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has authorized the purchase of 6.9 million monkeypox vaccines at taxpayer expense.