The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared the global monkeypox outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern, the strongest call to action the agency can make.
Since 2009, the WHO has declared seven global health emergencies, the most recent being for Covid-19, which was declared an emergency back in 2020.
According to the WHO’s international health regulations, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) is “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.”
The UN health agency states that the term implies that the situation is very serious, sudden, unusual, and/or unexpected. A global health emergency also implies this is a threat for public health beyond national borders, and may require immediate international attention.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, said at a press conference that the “committee met on Thursday to review the latest data, but were unable to reach a consensus.”
“In short, we have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission about which we understand too little and which meets the criteria in the international health regulations,” he said.
“For all of these reasons I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a global health emergency of international concern.”
While he said the “risk of monkeypox is moderate globally, it’s high in Europe and there is a clear risk of further international spread.”
So far there have been around 16,000 cases of monkeypox globally, 4,132 of which were in the past week according to data from WHO. It’s now been found in 75 countries and territories, and there have been five deaths.
European regions have the highest number of total cases at 11,865, and the highest increase in cases within the last week, with 2,705.
Dr. Rosamund Lewis, the technical lead for monkeypox at the WHO health emergency program, stated that there’s “a lot of work to be done. Action must be taken to establish what causes risk and to reduce situations that could put people at risk so they can protect themselves. This is how we will get to the end of this outbreak.”
Monkeypox is classified as a viral infection typically found in animals in central and western Africa, although it can cause outbreaks in humans, as we’ve been seeing.
Besides Europe, cases have been reported throughout the US, Canada, Australia, Nigeria, Israel, Brazil, Mexico, and others.
Experts have stressed that anyone can get monkeypox as it’s spread through close or intimate contact. The UN has warned that some media portrayals of the virus impacting mainly Africans and individuals in the LGBT+ community “reinforce homophobic and racist stereotypes and exacerbate stigma.”
Dr Michael Ryan, the executive director of the WHO emergencies program, said: “We all know how difficult it has been historically to deal with issues like this because of stigma. If nothing else this is about enlightened self-interest, as well as solidarity with those affected.”
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.