UPDATES WITH COMMENTS, LATEST FIGURES BY WHO CHIEF; REVISES DECK
By Peter Kenny
GENEVA (AA) - Amid reports of surging cases in Europe, a special committee of the World Health Organization began meeting Thursday to decide whether monkeypox should be declared a global “public health emergency.”
The emergency committee will advise the WHO chief “on whether the event constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC),” the WHO’s highest alert level, said the UN health agency.
Since early May, cases of monkeypox have been reported from countries where the disease is not endemic, along with continuing reports in several endemic countries, according to the WHO.
Just over six weeks ago, the WHO was notified of a family cluster of three monkeypox cases without any recent travel outside the UK, WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus told the committee.
“Since then, more than 3,200 confirmed cases of monkeypox and one death have been reported to the WHO from 48 countries, including Nigeria, and in five WHO regions,” he said.
“The outbreak in newly affected countries continues to be primarily among men who have sex with men, and who have reported recent sex with new or multiple partners.”
Tedros said person-to-person transmission is ongoing and likely underestimated.
In Nigeria, the proportion of women affected is much higher than elsewhere, and it is critical to better understand how the disease is spreading there, he added.
In addition, so far this year, almost 1,500 suspected monkeypox cases and around 70 deaths have been reported in Central Africa, primarily in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also in the Central African Republic and Cameroon.
According to WHO data, 2,746 cases of monkeypox had been identified by June 21 in 29 countries and areas throughout the European region.
Most confirmed cases with a travel history reported visits to countries in Europe and North America rather than West or Central Africa, where the monkeypox virus is endemic.
This is the first time that so many monkeypox cases and clusters have been reported concurrently in non-endemic and endemic countries in disparate geographical areas.
“Most reported cases so far have been identified through sexual health or other health services in primary or secondary health-care facilities and have involved mainly, but not exclusively, men who have sex with men,” read a WHO statement.
There have been nine emergency committees under international health regulations so far, including two ongoing ones on polio and COVID-19, according to the UN health agency.
Monkeypox is an orthopoxvirus that causes a disease with symptoms similar to, but less severe than, smallpox.
While smallpox was eradicated in 1980, monkeypox continues to occur in countries in central and western parts of Africa, according to the WHO.