UN health agency declares monkeypox a global emergency, disease now found in 70 countries

LONDON – The World Health Organization said the spreading monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries was an “extraordinary” situation that is now being qualified as a global emergency, a statement on Saturday spurring further investment in treating the once-rare disease and worsening the mess could for scarce vaccines.

Although monkeypox has been common in parts of central and west Africa for decades, it was not known to trigger large outbreaks across the continent or spread widely among humans until authorities discovered dozens of epidemics in Europe, North America and elsewhere in May.

The declaration of a global emergency means the monkeypox outbreak is an “extraordinary event” that could spread to more countries and requires a coordinated global response. The WHO has previously declared emergencies for public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, West Africa’s 2014 Ebola outbreak, the Zika virus in Latin America in 2016, and ongoing polio eradication efforts.

The declaration of emergency serves primarily as a plea to direct more global resources and attention to an outbreak. Previous announcements have had mixed effects as the UN health agency is largely powerless to push countries into action.

Last month, the WHO expert committee said the global monkeypox outbreak did not yet constitute an international emergency, but the panel met this week to reassess the situation.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 74 countries since around May. So far, deaths from monkeypox have only been reported in Africa, where a more dangerous version of the virus is spreading, mainly in Nigeria and Congo.

In Africa, monkeypox spreads primarily from infected wild animals, such as rodents, in limited outbreaks that have not usually crossed borders. However, in Europe, North America and elsewhere, monkeypox is spreading among people who have no connection to animals or who have recently traveled to Africa.

The WHO’s leading monkeypox expert, Dr. Rosamund Lewis said this week that 99% of all monkeypox cases outside of Africa have been in men, and 98% of those have been in men who have sex with men. Experts suspect the monkeypox outbreaks in Europe and North America were spread through sex at two raves in Belgium and Spain.

Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University, said it was surprising the WHO hadn’t already declared monkeypox a global emergency, explaining that the conditions appear to have been met weeks ago.

Some experts have questioned whether such an explanation would help, arguing that the disease was not serious enough to deserve attention and that rich countries fighting monkeypox already had the means to do so. Most people recover without medical help, although the lesions can be painful.

“I think it would be better to be proactive and overreact to the issue rather than wait until it’s too late,” Head said. He added that WHO’s emergency declaration could help donors like the World Bank allocate funds to halt outbreaks in both the West and Africa, where animals are likely the natural reservoir of monkeypox.

In the US, some experts have speculated that monkeypox may be on the verge of becoming an established sexually transmitted disease in the country, like gonorrhea, herpes and HIV.

“The bottom line is that we have seen a shift in the epidemiology of monkeypox, where there is now widespread, unexpected transmission,” said Dr. Albert Ko, Professor of Public Health and Epidemiology at Yale University. “There are some genetic mutations in the virus that suggest why this might be happening, but we need a globally coordinated response to get it under control,” he said.

Ko called for an immediate and rapid expansion of testing, saying there are significant surveillance gaps similar to the early days of COVID-19.

“The cases we’re seeing are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “The window has probably closed for us to quickly halt outbreaks in Europe and the US, but it’s not too late to prevent monkeypox from wreaking havoc in poorer countries without the resources to deal with it.” serve.”

In the US, some experts have speculated that monkeypox could be firmly established there as the latest sexually transmitted disease, with officials estimating 1.5 million men are at high risk of infection.

dr Placide Mbala, a virologist who heads the global health division at Congo’s Institute of National Biomedical Research, said he hopes all global efforts to tackle monkeypox are fair. Although countries like the UK, Canada, Germany and the US have ordered millions of doses of vaccine, none have gone to Africa.

“The solution must be global,” Mbala said, adding that any vaccines sent to Africa would be used for those most at risk, such as hunters in rural areas.

“Vaccination in the west could help stop the outbreak there, but there will still be cases in Africa,” he said. “If the problem is not solved here, the risk remains for the rest of the world.”

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. UN health agency declares monkeypox a global emergency, disease now found in 70 countries

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