The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared monkeypox a global emergency, as the virus has spread in just a few weeks to dozens of countries, and more than 16,000 cases outside of Africa have now been reported, according to The New York Times.
WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said today that the virus constituted a “public health emergency of international concern,” a designation in use for only COVID-19 and polio.
An outbreak that is spreading around the world
“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” for a public health emergency, Tedros told reporters.
The declaration marked the first time that the director general of the organization had to overrule his advisers to declare a public health emergency after the committee’s inability to come to a consensus.
Previously in May, the organization had said that the disease could be contained but immediate action is needed.
“We think that if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily,” Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, had told the U.N. agency’s annual assembly at the time. “We don’t know if we are just seeing the peak of the iceberg [or] if there are many more cases that are undetected in communities.”
“For us, we think that the key priority currently is trying to contain this transmission in non-endemic countries,” Briand added saying that early detection and isolation of cases and contact tracing were necessary to contain the outbreak.
But is it really a public health emergency?
Some experts disagree with Tedros’ decision despite there being five times more cases now than when the outbreak was reviewed by the WHO back in June. These experts have called the process shortsighted and overly cautious.
Others however such as Dr. Boghuma Titanji, an infectious diseases physician at Emory University in Atlanta, say the new declaration is “better late than never.”
“One can argue that the response globally has continued to suffer from a lack of coordination with individual countries working at very different paces to address the problem,” Titanji told The New York Times.
“There is almost capitulation that we cannot stop the monkeypox virus from establishing itself in a more permanent way,” she added.
It’s hard to pinpoint when a virus should be declared a public health emergency but when it comes to diseases erroring on the side of caution seems wise. After all, we would not want a virus to spread farther than it can be contained only to be told it should have been flagged as an emergency.
This is a breaking story and will be updated as it unfolds.