Though swathes of Africa have been afflicted by the latest scourge, so to speak, it is mildly reassuring to learn from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that monkey pox is yet to assume the form of a global emergency. The WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, hastened to add that “intense response efforts” are needed to control its further spread. Sunday’s announcement comes two days after the WHO chief convened an emergency committee on the disease under the International Health Regulations (IHR) to address what he called the “rising caseload”.
Deeply concerned about the monkeypox outbreak, which represents a serious, evolving threat, “I convened an Emergency Committee. The experts advised that it currently doesn’t constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” The WHO Director-General has concurred with the advice offered by the IHR Emergency Committee regarding the multi-country monkeypox outbreak and that at present it does not determine “the event constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” the UN agency said in a statement. The public health declaration is the highest level of global alert, which currently applies only to the Covid-19 pandemic and polio.
Monkeypox, a rare viral disease, occurs primarily in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa, though it has occasionally spread to other regions. Since May, more than 3,000 cases have emerged in 47 countries, many of which had 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 few hospitalisations till date and one death. “The committee unanimously acknowledged the emergency nature of the outbreak and that controlling further spread requires intense response efforts,” the statement said. Members have also recommended that the situation should be closely monitored and reviewed after a few weeks.
Conditions that could prompt re-assessment include evidence of an increased growth rate in cases over the next 21 days, 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. In a statement, Tedros said he is deeply concerned by the spread of the disease, and that both he and WHO are following the evolving threat very closely.
“What makes the current outbreak especially concerning is the rapid, continuing spread into new countries and regions and the risk of further, sustained transmission into vulnerable populations including people who are immunocompromised, pregnant women and children,” he said. A health crisis is an extraordinary event, one that requires a globally managed response. The assessment of Tedros has come not a day too soon. The world must reflect.