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World Health Organization director-general speaks at a press conference

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press conference on December 20, 2021. (Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

WHO Declares Monkeypox a Global Public Health Emergency

"We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little," said the WHO chief.

Jake Johnson

The World Health Organization on Saturday formally classified monkeypox as a "public health emergency of international concern," warning that the viral disease is spreading rapidly across the globe.

The WHO's decision came after a panel of advisers failed to reach a consensus position on whether monkeypox constitutes a global health emergency. Saturday's move marks the second time in two years that the WHO has issued such an international health emergency declaration.

"Unless we declare an emergency and act quickly to combat it, we risk repeating the same mistakes we made with our Covid-19 battle."

"WHO's assessment is that the risk of monkeypox is moderate globally and in all regions except in the European region, where we assess the risk as high," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Saturday. "There is also a clear risk of further international spread, although the risk of interference with international traffic remains low for the moment."

"So in short, 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," he said. "For all of these reasons, I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern."

Thus far, more than 16,000 monkeypox infections and five deaths have been reported in 75 countries and territories across the globe. On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the country's first two monkeypox cases in children.

There are vaccines and treatments for monkeypox, but public health advocates and experts have voiced concern that access is highly unequal and distribution has been slow—echoing the devastating failures of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Unless we declare an emergency and act quickly to combat it, we risk repeating the same mistakes we made with our Covid-19 battle," Eric Feigl-Ding, Kavita Patel, and Yaneer Bar-Yam wrote in a Washington Post op-ed earlier this month.

"Governments and health authorities worldwide should alert the public regarding protection measures and provide support for mitigation, rapid case identification, early diagnostics, contact tracing, and isolation," they continued. "While a reliable monkeypox vaccine exists due to prior research, it will take many months to ramp up production for the world. Here in the United States, the federal government has already ordered 1.6 million doses for 800,000 Americans, but these will not be available until the end of 2022. By then, it will be too late unless we act now with other containment measures."

As Kaiser Health News notes, most monkeypox infections detected so far "have been in men who have sex with men, and many of the cases are in Europe."

"But the World Health Organization reported July 1 that cases are emerging among other groups—in some cases, among people such as household members, heterosexual contacts, and children," the outlet added. "Up to 10% of patients have been hospitalized, according to the WHO."


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