A World Health Organization independent committee of experts says the spread of monkeypox in a number of countries around the world is worrisome but does not constitute what the WHO calls a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
In early May, the World Health Organization was alerted to an outbreak of monkeypox in countries outside Africa, where this deadly disease has been circulating for decades. Since then, more than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have been reported in more than 50 non-African countries. This has set alarm bells ringing as, until now, only sporadic cases of monkeypox have occurred outside Africa.
WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus calls the current outbreak an evolving health threat, noting the rapid spread of the disease into new countries and regions. He says the committee has agreed to reconvene another emergency meeting if appropriate.
WHO spokesman, Christian Lindmeier tells VOA the committee has drawn up a list of factors that could trigger a reassessment of the event.
“Evidence of an increase in the rate of growth of cases reported in the next 21 days, including significant spread to and within additional countries. Also, if we see an increase in endemic countries. So, evidence also of increased severity or a change in the viral genome associated with or leading to an end of transmissibility,” he said.
Monkeypox is a rare disease similar to smallpox. The virus causes rashes and flu-like symptoms. It is spread mainly through human contact with infected rodents but sometimes can be spread through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.
The disease is mainly found in Central and West Africa. This year, WHO reports there have been nearly 1,500 suspected cases of monkeypox and around 70 deaths primarily in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and Cameroon.
Lindmeier says cases of Monkeypox have spread to the European region, to the Americas, as well as the Eastern Mediterranean and West Pacific regions.
“At this point, it is mainly in the newer countries affecting the community of the LGBTQ-Plus community of men having sex with men. But in the endemic countries, we have seen also children and women infected and deaths occurring in the weaker communities and weaker populations,” he said.
While questions regarding the monkeypox outbreak remain unresolved, WHO urges nations to remain vigilant and strengthen their ability to prevent transmission of the disease.
The WHO expert committee advises countries to step-up surveillance, improve diagnostics, and when appropriate to use therapeutics and vaccines. It also recommends affected communities to implement public health measures including contact tracing and isolation.