Updated: Sun, 24 Jul 2022 01:03 PM IST
Activating its highest alert level, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Saturday declared monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency. The top global health body had earlier refused to declare monkeypox a global emergency, but was forced to make a U-turn after a spurt in cases across the world.
Till now, more than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported from 75 countries, with Europe being the worst-hit region. Additionally, five deaths have also been recorded.
"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. For all of these reasons, I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
A public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) is WHO's highest alert level. The WHO has defined PHEIC as "an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response."
This means that the situation has turned "serious", which means a coordinated international response is needed to tackle the situation. Earlier, the WHO declared PHEIC for Swine Flu, Ebola, Zika virus, Poliovirus, and COVID-19.
WHY A GLOBAL EMERGENCY WAS DECLARED AGAINST MONKEYPOX?
This came after a 16-member emergency committee on monkeypox recommended WHO chief to declare monkeypox a global health emergency. The committee was chaired by by Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a former director of the WHO's Vaccines and Immunisation Department.
However, it must be noted that nine members of the committee were against the decision.
According to Ghebreyesus, monkeypox is currently "is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have s*x with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners."
"That means that this is an outbreak that can be stopped with the right strategies in the right groups. It's therefore essential that all countries work closely with communities of men who have s*x with men, to design and deliver effective information and services, and to adopt measures that protect the health, human rights and dignity of affected communities," he said.
The WHO chief also underlined that stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus.
"In addition to our recommendations to countries, I am also calling on civil society organisations, including those with experience in working with people living with HIV, to work with us on fighting stigma and discrimination. But with the tools we have right now, we can stop the transmission and bring this outbreak under control," he said.
He said under the International Health Regulations, he is required to consider five elements in deciding whether an outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.
"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. There is also a clear risk of further international spread, although the risk of interference with international traffic remains low for the moment," Ghebreyesus said.