The outbreak of monkeypox, which has spread to more than 70 countries, is an “extraordinary” situation that now qualifies as a global emergency, the World Health Organization said in a Saturday announcement that should spur further investment in treating the once rare disease. and may worsen the scramble for rare vaccines. ,
Although monkeypox has been established in parts of Central and West Africa for decades, it was not known to cause large outbreaks beyond the continent or spread widely among people until May, when officials Dozens of epidemics were detected in Europe, North America and elsewhere.
Declaring 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 previously declared a state of emergency for public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2014 West African Ebola outbreak, the 2016 Zika virus in Latin America, and the ongoing effort to eradicate polio.
The emergency declaration mostly serves as a plea to draw attention to global resources and the outbreak. Previous announcements had mixed effects, given that the United Nations health agency is largely powerless to guide countries into action.
Last month, the WHO’s expert committee said the worldwide monkeypox outbreak did not yet amount to an international emergency, but the panel called this week to re-evaluate 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 May. To date, deaths from monkeypox have been reported only in Africa, where a more dangerous version of the virus is spreading, mainly in Nigeria and Congo.
In Africa, monkeypox is mainly transmitted from infected wild animals such as rodents to people, in limited outbreaks that do not usually cross borders. in Europe,And elsewhere, however, monkeypox is spreading among people who have no connection to animals or have not recently traveled to Africa.
The WHO’s top monkeypox expert, Dr. Rosamund Lewis, said this week that 99% of all monkeypox cases outside Africa were in men and 98% of those involved men who have sex with men. Experts suspect that monkeypox outbreaks in Europe and North America spread through sex in two waves in Belgium and Spain.
Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said it was surprising that the WHO had not already declared monkeypox a global emergency, explaining that the conditions had arguably been met weeks earlier.
Some experts have questioned whether such a declaration would help, arguing that the disease is not serious enough to warrant attention and that wealthy countries battling monkeys already have the funds to do so; Most people recover without the need for medical attention, although the sores can be painful.
“I think it would be better to be proactive and exaggerate on the problem than to wait to react when it’s too late,” Head said. He said the WHO’s emergency declaration could help charities such as the World Bank provide funds to contain outbreaks in both the West and Africa, where the animals are potential natural reserves of monkeypox.
In the US, some experts have speculated whether monkeypox is on the verge of becoming a 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, unpredictable transmission,” said Dr Albert Ko, a professor of public health and epidemiology at Yale University. “There are some genetic mutations in the virus that explain why this is happening, but we need a globally coordinated response to bring it under control,” he said.
Ko called for an immediate rapid increase in testing, saying similar to the early days of COVID-19, that there were significant gaps in surveillance.
“The cases we are seeing are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “The window to stopping outbreaks early in Europe and the US is probably closed, but it’s not too late to stop monkeys from causing huge damage to poor countries without the resources to handle it.”
In the US, some experts have estimated that monkeypox may be spreading there as the newest sexually transmitted disease, with officials estimating that 1.5 million men are at high risk of becoming infected.
Dr Plaside Mbala, a virologist who directs the global health department at the Congolese Institute of National Biomedical Research, said he hoped any global effort to stop monkeypox would be justified. Although countries including Britain, Canada, Germany and the US have ordered millions of vaccine doses, none have gone to Africa.
“The solution needs to be global,” Mabala said, adding that any vaccine shipped to Africa would be used to target those most at risk, like poachers in rural areas.
“Vaccination in the West may help prevent outbreaks there, but there will still be cases in Africa,” he said. “Unless the problem here is addressed, the risk to the rest of the world remains.”