The World Health Organization said Thursday it would reconvene its monkeypox expert committee on July 21 to decide whether the outbreak constitutes a global health emergency.
A second meeting of the WHO’s emergency response committee on monkeypox is being held, with the UN health agency now aware of 9,200 cases in 63 countries in the latest update released Tuesday.
Since early May, an increase in monkeypox infections has been reported outside of western and central African countries, where the disease has long been endemic.
On June 23, the WHO convened an emergency panel of experts to decide whether monkeypox constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) — the highest alert the WHO can issue.
However, a majority told WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that the situation had not reached that threshold at the time.
Now a second meeting is to take place, with increasing numbers of cases.
“The Emergency Committee will provide the WHO Director-General with its views on whether the event constitutes a PHEIC,” the UN health agency said in a statement.
“If it does, it will propose interim recommendations on how to better prevent and reduce the spread of the disease and manage the global public health response.”
A statement will be issued in the days following the meeting.
– ‘Fight the Stigma’ –
According to the WHO, most monkeypox infections to date have been observed in men who have sex with men, at a young age and mainly in urban areas.
The committee will look at trends in how effective the countermeasures are and make recommendations on what countries and communities should do to combat the outbreak, Tedros said at a news conference on Tuesday.
He said the WHO is working closely with civil society and the LGBTQ community “particularly to combat the stigma surrounding the virus” and to disseminate information to help people stay safe.
“WHO continues to work with countries and vaccine manufacturers to coordinate the sharing of vaccines that are currently in short supply,” he added.
The Geneva-based organization also works with countries and experts to advance research and development.
“We must work to stop retransmission and advise governments to implement contact tracing to detect and contain the virus and help people in isolation,” Tedros said.
– Snapshot Profile –
A week ago, the WHO published its first situation report on the spread of monkeypox, in which the typical profile of those affected by the outbreak so far is described.
According to the statistics available so far, nearly all affected patients are male, with a median age of 37, with three-fifths identifying as men who have sex with men, WHO said.
Normal initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a blistering, chickenpox-like rash.
But the report said that in this outbreak, many cases did not present the clinical picture classically described.
Among those who reported at least one symptom, 81 percent had a widespread rash on their body, 50 percent had a fever, and 41 percent had a genital rash.
The WHO’s 16-member Monkeypox Emergency Committee is chaired by Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele of the Democratic Republic of Congo, former director of WHO’s Division of Vaccines and Immunization.
There have been six PHEIC statements since 2009, the last for Covid-19 in 2020 – although the sluggish global response to the alarm bell is still raging at WHO headquarters.
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