On Thursday, monkeypox experts debated whether the World Health Organization should classify the outbreak as a global health emergency — the highest alert it can sound.
A second meeting of the WHO emergency committee on the virus was held to examine the worsening situation, with almost 15,400 cases reported from 71 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A surge in monkeypox infections has been reported since early May outside West and Central Africa, where the disease has long been endemic.
On June 23, the WHO convened an emergency committee of experts to decide whether monkeypox constituted a so-called Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), the UN health agency’s highest alert level.
But the majority told WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that the situation at that point was below the threshold.
The second meeting was convened due to the fact that over the past week the number of cases has increased and spread to six more countries.
The WHO has confirmed that the meeting, held behind closed doors, is ongoing.
If the committee informs Tedros that the outbreak is a PHEIC, it will offer interim recommendations on how to better prevent and reduce the spread of the disease, and manage the global public health response.
But there is no timetable yet for when the results will be made public.
Ninety-eight percent of reported cases “are of men who have sex with men (MSM) — and primarily those with multiple recent, anonymous or new partners,” the WHO monkeypox technical lead said at a press conference on Wednesday. Rosamund Lewis.
According to the WHO, they tend to be young and mostly live in urban areas.
The committee looks at recent trends and data on how effective countermeasures are and makes recommendations on what countries and communities should do to control the outbreak.
Regardless of the decision of the PHEIC committee, “WHO will continue to do everything possible to help countries stop transmission and save lives,” Tedros said at a press conference.
He said the WHO is testing, purchasing and shipping tests to several countries, but said that one of the most powerful tools in the fight against monkeypox is information for affected communities.
WHO Emergency Director Michael Ryan said the LGBTQ community has been one of the most active and responsible, having worked hard for decades to fight HIV, “so we have every confidence that this community can, will and will be very active.”
A viral infection that resembles smallpox and was first identified in humans in 1970, monkeypox is less dangerous and contagious than smallpox eradicated in 1980.
“Terrible and tiresome”
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said there were 7,896 confirmed cases in 27 European Economic Area countries as of Monday.
Spain (2835 people), Germany (1924 people), France (912 people), the Netherlands (656 people) and Portugal (515 people) were the most affected.
“It is likely that certain sexual practices have contributed and may further contribute to the transmission of monkeypox among MSM groups,” the report said.
The Danish company Bavarian Nordic is the only laboratory producing a licensed monkeypox vaccine, and vaccines are currently in short supply.
New York, the epicenter of the US outbreak with more than 700 cases, had either introduced or scheduled 21,500 vaccines by Sunday, with men in their 20s and 40s lining up to get vaccinated.
Lois Pace, assistant secretary of state for global affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the world is “very hard” to deal with monkeypox on top of Covid-19 and other health crises.
“I know it can be scary … and, frankly, exhausting,” she told reporters at the US mission in Geneva.
However, “we know a lot more about this disease, we’ve been able to stop outbreaks in the past, and, importantly, we have medical countermeasures and other tools available.”