WHO to hold second monkeypox emergency meeting amid spread

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaking at a press conference in 2018. (UN Photo/Elma Okic)

The World Health Organization (WHO) will reconvene its emergency committee on Monkeypox next week to determine whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency, as cases continue to rise. 

As of Tuesday, there were some 9,200 Monkeypox cases in 63 countries, the UN agency’s director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing. 

That means cases have increased by 50 per cent in the week since WHO issued its last report on 6 July, which confirmed 6,027 cases in 59 countries. 

Tedros said the monkeypox emergency committee, which is meeting for a second time after deciding against declaring a global emergency last month,  will “look at trends, how effective countermeasures are, and recommendations” on what countries can do. 

If it decides Monkeypox also constitutes a global health emergency, it would be a rare instance of WHO simultaneously confronting three global health emergencies, including Polio, designated a global health emergency since 2014. 

Key to their deliberations will be an assessment of the evolving situation in light of nine criteria, said Dr Sylvie Briand, who heads WHO’s global infectious hazard preparedness department. 

Those include questions of “increasing cases, deaths, diseases spreading outside of the initially affected community, changes in the virus and so on,” she said, noting the situation has evolved since the committee last met on June 25. 

The current tally of cases being recorded represented cases reported largely outside of the central and western African areas where the disease is endemic.  Altogether some 1,597 suspected cases were reported in WHO’s Africa Region as of mid-June, but most were unconfirmed due to a lack of testing capacity. 

“We see an increasing number of cases, we have also seen new geographies affected. So it’s worth looking at it again and see if we need to reinforce the advice.”

At the same time, Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said, it appears that “sexual contact is what is driving the outbreak” of Monkeypox infections in Europe and elsewhere that have occurred in circles of men who have sex with men.

He also cited evidence that transmission can occur as a result of contact with the virus on infected surfaces, particularly in health care settings.

The WHO’s briefing on the growing monkeypox crisis came as the agency’s Covid-19 Emergency Committee also declared that the pandemic continues to be a global health emergency posing significant risks to public health.

This article originally appeared in Health Policy Watch. Read the full version here.