With monkeypox cases on the rise, the head of the World Health Organization is expected to explain Saturday whether the agency has decided to classify the outbreak as a global health emergency – the highest alert it can raise.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will address a virtual press conference at 13:00 GMT, the WHO said in a statement late Friday.
What is to be announced has not been revealed.
According to a tally released July 20 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), monkeypox affects more than 15,800 people in 72 countries.
Outside West and Central African countries, where the disease has long been endemic, an increase in monkeypox infections has been reported since early May.
On June 23, the WHO convened an Emergency Committee (EC) of experts to decide whether monkeypox constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) – the UN health agency’s highest alert level.
But a majority told the Tedros that the situation had not yet reached the threshold at that point.
The second meeting was convened on Thursday with case numbers continuing to rise, at which Tedros said he was concerned.
“I need your advice in assessing the immediate and medium-term public health implications,” Tedros said at the meeting, which lasted more than six hours.
A US health expert issued a dire warning late Friday.
“Since the last #Monkeypox EC a few weeks ago, we’ve seen an exponential increase in cases. It is inevitable that cases will increase dramatically in the coming weeks and months. That’s why @DrTedros needs to raise the alarm around the world,” Lawrence Gostin, the director of the WHO Collaborating Center for National and Global Health Law, said on Twitter.
“Failure to act will have serious consequences for global health.”
– Discrimination Warning –
Monkeypox is a viral infection similar to smallpox that was first discovered in humans in 1970. They are less dangerous and contagious than smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980.
According to a study of 528 people in 16 countries published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 95 percent of cases were transmitted through sexual activity — the largest study to date.
Overall, 98 percent of those infected were gay or bisexual men, and around a third were known to have attended sex-on-site events, such as sex parties or saunas, within the previous month.
“This transmission pattern presents both an opportunity to implement targeted public health interventions and a challenge as affected communities face life-threatening discrimination in some countries,” Tedros said, citing concerns that stigma and scapegoating can undermine the prosecution of the disease could complicate outbreaks.
“I am very aware that any decision I make regarding the possible designation of a public health emergency of international concern involves considering many factors, with the ultimate goal of protecting public health,” he added.
The European Union pharmacovigilance on Friday recommended the use of Imnavex, a smallpox vaccine, to treat monkeypox for approval.
Imvanex, developed by the Danish drug manufacturer Bavarian Nordic, has been approved in the EU for the prevention of smallpox since 2013.
Due to the similarity between the monkeypox virus and the smallpox virus, it has also been considered a potential monkeypox vaccine.
The first symptoms of monkeypox are fever, headache, muscle aches, and back pain over the course of five days.
Rashes then appear on the face, palms, and soles, followed by lesions, spots, and finally scabs.
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