The World Health Organization on Saturday said monkeypox was not a “public health emergency of international concern.”
The label, the UN agency’s highest level of alert, would have given monkeypox the same distinction as the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing effort to eradicate polio.
In a statement, a WHO emergency committee said many aspects of the outbreak were “unusual” and acknowledged that monkeypox has been neglected for years.
“While a few members expressed differing views, the committee resolved by consensus to advise the WHO director-general that at this stage the outbreak should be determined to not constitute” a global health emergency, WHO said.
Urgent action is required
Stopping short of declaring it a public, international emergency, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter: “The response requires urgent coordinated action now to stop the further spread of monkeypox virus, using public health measures and ensuring health tools are available to at-risk populations and shared fairly.”
Although monkeypox doesn’t spread as easily as COVID-19 — and vaccines and treatment for it are already available — the illness has raised concerns in several countries that it might continue to escalate.
In recent weeks, monkeypox has been identified in over 50 countries, mostly in Europe. But the viral disease has infected people in central and west Africa for decades.
More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the WHO this year.
One version of the disease killed up to 10% of the cases in Africa. No deaths have been reported from monkeypox outside of Africa
Why now, African scientists wonder
Leading African scientists have previously pointed out that monkeypox has been a crisis in parts of their continent for years.
“If WHO was really worried about monkeypox spread, they could have convened their emergency committee years ago when it reemerged in Nigeria in 2017 and no one knew why we suddenly had hundreds of cases,” Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian virologist who sits on several WHO advisory groups, said earlier this week.
“It is a bit curious that WHO only called their experts when the disease showed up in white countries,” he added.
Monkeypox is now endemic in parts of Africa. According to official data, Africa recorded more than 1,500 suspected cases this year, including 66 that were fatal.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 3,300 cases of monkeypox were confirmed in 42 countries where the virus had not been typically seen.
dh, fb, dj/kb (AFP, Reuters, AP)