The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said Saturday the global outbreak of monkeypox is a health threat whose development is very worrying, but has not reached the stage of a global health emergency.
The director-general of this UN agency, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, convened a meeting of experts on the subject on Thursday to find out whether the WHO should raise its highest alert level in view of the epidemic, which is mainly affecting western Europe.
A surge in monkeypox cases has been noted since early May, a far cry from central and west African countries where the disease has long been endemic.
More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have been reported to WHO from around 50 countries where the disease is not endemic this year.
In addition, since the beginning of 2022, almost 1,500 suspected cases and around 70 deaths have been reported in Central Africa, mainly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Cameroon, Tedros said on Thursday.
“The Emergency Committee shared deep concerns about the magnitude and speed of spread of the current outbreak,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement released after reviewing the expert report, noting many unknowns about the phenomenon that constitute their consensus position.
“Overall, they suggested to me in the report that the event at this time does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (USPPI) which constitutes the highest alert level in the world, WHO, but they agreed to convene the committee itself reflects growing concern about the international spread of monkeypox,” the text reads.
Mr. Tedros announced on June 14 that he would convene an emergency committee to assess whether the current outbreak constitutes a USPPI.
The last USPPI was declared in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Monkeypox or “Simian Orthopoxvirus” has been known to affect humans since 1970 and is considered a rare disease.
It initially causes a high fever and quickly develops into a rash with scabs. Mostly benign, it usually heals spontaneously after two to three weeks.
It is usually due to a virus transmitted to humans from infected animals. But the focus of the current outbreak is on human-to-human transmission.
The majority of cases reported to date involve men who have sex with men. Unless the infection is sexually transmitted, transmission can occur through close contact, such as during sex.