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WHO Declares Monkeypox A ‘Public Health Emergency’

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The World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern, its highest level of alert, Saturday.

“We have an outbreak that has spread rapidly through new modes of transmission about which we understand too little and which meets the criteria in the international health regulations,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing Saturday in Geneva. “For all of these reasons, I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.”

Disagreement rose among a WHO emergency committee that met Thursday to deliberate whether to declare a public health emergency, prompting Tedros to make a unilateral decision, Reuters reported. Nearly 17,000 cases in 74 countries have been reported to WHO this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with roughly 16,000 since May.

Tedros added that the disease is primarily spread throughout male homosexual contact.

“Although I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern, for the moment this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners,” Tedros said. He urged countries to combat negative perceptions of monkeypox victims.

“Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus,” he said.

Although the risk of monkeypox remains low in most countries, WHO determined that the risk is higher in Europe, which has not historically reported cases of the disease, Tedros said.

The International Health Regulations label a disease as a public health emergency if it is “serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected; carries implications for public health beyond the affected State’s national border; and may require immediate international action.”

Tedros added that scientific evidence regarding the disease is “insufficient and leaves us with many unknowns.”

Declaring a public health emergency could trigger global cooperation in developing and distributing vaccines, according to Reuters.

About half of the countries reporting cases have stores of smallpox vaccines that health officials say will prevent monkeypox, Tim Nguyen, unit head of WHO’s high impact events preparedness team, said at the briefing. The rest are negotiating with manufacturers and well-stocked countries to procure enough doses.

Globally, 4 to 5 million third-generation vaccines and 100 million second-generation vaccines are in varying stages of readiness for distribution, and WHO is considering how to expand supply for 2023, said Nguyen. However, the vaccines have never been used in the context of a monkeypox outbreak, he added.

WHO issued a set of recommendations, including “promoting the reduction of the number of sexual partners where relevant including with respect to events with venues for sex on premises, use of personal protective measures and practices… related to small or large gatherings of communities at high risk of exposure.”

Washington, D.C., has the highest number of reported monkeypox cases per capita in the United States, with one case per 6,500 residents, NBC Washington reported.

WHO declined to comment.

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