The decision was announced on Saturday morning after the WHO convened its second emergency committee on the matter on Thursday.
“I have determined that the global monkeypox outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Saturday morning.
Tedros said that while the committee was unable to reach a consensus, it came to a decision after considering the five elements needed to decide whether the outbreak is a public health emergency of international concern.
He added that although he had declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern, “at the moment it is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple partners, which is means this outbreak can be stopped with the right strategies in the right right groups.”
The WHO did not initially declare the monkeypox outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern after its first emergency committee meeting on 23 June. An Emergency of International Concern,” but acknowledged a “growing health threat” that the WHO will monitor very closely.
The WHO defines a public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC, as an “extraordinary event” that poses a “public health risk to other states as a result of the international spread of a disease” and “potentially requires a coordinated international response”.
The organization’s monkeypox emergency committee first met at the end of June when its members expressed serious concern about the scale and speed of the virus outbreak, but said it did not constitute a PHEIC. Tedros has reconvened the committee to provide an update, he said.
The PHEIC designation comes from the International Health Regulations, created in 2005, and is an international agreement to help prevent and respond to public health risks that can spread around the world.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes the regulations as “a legally binding agreement by 196 countries to build the capacity to detect and report potential public health emergencies around the world. The IHR requires all countries to be able to detect, assess, report and respond to public health events.”
There are currently two public health emergencies: polio, which began in 2014, and Covid-19, which began in 2020.
Since the rules were put in place, four more PHEICs have been declared: H1N1 influenza from 2009 to 2010; Ebola from 2014 to 2016 and from 2019 to 2020; and the Zika virus in 2016.
There are now more than 2,800 probable or confirmed cases of monkeypox in the US in 44 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worldwide, more than 16,500 cases have been reported in 74 countries.
Monkeypox is a much less dangerous relative of the smallpox virus, which has now been eradicated. It is endemic to parts of West and Central Africa and is usually transmitted from rodents or small mammals.
The monkeypox virus can be spread by contact with bodily fluids, sores, or items such as clothing and bedding that are contaminated with the virus. According to the CDC, it can also be transmitted from person to person through the air, usually in close surroundings.
Anyone who has had contact with someone who has a rash that looks like monkeypox, or who has had contact with someone who has a probable or confirmed case of monkeypox, is at high risk of infection. A large number of cases have been reported this year among men who have sex with men, and health authorities have focused their prevention efforts on this group.