Health

WHO declares monkeypox public health emergency of international concern

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus overruled a committee of experts who could not come to a consensus  

 
By Taran Deol
Published: Saturday 23 July 2022
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addresses the press conference by WHO to declare monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addresses the press conference by WHO to declare monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addresses the press conference by WHO to declare monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern

The World Health Organization’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) July 23, 2022.

PHEIC is the highest level of alert the global health body can issue. Only polio and SARS-CoV-2 were ongoing PHEIC prior to monkeypox. Ghebreyesus overruled a committee of experts who could not come to a consensus, to reach the decision.

The WHO reconvened for a second time July 21, 2022, as cases crossed the 16,000-mark and deaths touched five globally. The first meeting was convened a month ago, when cases were a fifth of what are being recorded today.

Ghebreyesus said:

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. 

The global health body has assessed the risk of monkeypox to be moderate across the world except in the European region, where it is a high risk. While there is international spread of the disease, risk of interference with international traffic remains low for the moment, the WHO noted.

Ghebreyesus underlined five factors that influenced the decision:

  1. Information provided by countries
  2. The three fulfilled criteria for declaring a PHEIC under the International Health Regulations
  3. Advice of the Emergency Committee
  4. Scientific principles and evidence which remains unclear
  5. The risk to human health 

The process and path of declaring any PHEIC has been criticised earlier where experts believe a binary answer to such a question is not the solution and a graded answer is needed.

Ghebreyesus addressed the lack of consensus and underlined that member countries were mulling ways to make it more effective. “This process demonstrates once again that this vital tool needs to be sharpened to make it more effective,” he said.

Monkeypox will now be on the radar of several national leaders to be on the lookout for. The decision to declare it as a PHEIC also opens up avenues for new funding. The WHO can make recommendations for countries which are not binding but if countries stray from it, they must show scientific reason for doing so.

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