WHO considers declaring monkeypox a global health emergency

LONDON (AP) — As the World Health Organization convened an emergency committee on Thursday to consider whether the spiraling outbreak of monkeypox needs to be declared a global emergency, some experts say the WHO will only have to wait until after the disease has spread to the West. The decision to act could exacerbate this strange inequality that has unfolded between rich and poor countries during the coronavirus pandemic.

Declaring monkeypox a global emergency would mean the UN health agency considers the outbreak an “extraordinary event” and that the disease risks spreading to more borders. It will also give monkeypox the same distinction as the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing efforts to eradicate polio.

Many scientists doubt that any such announcement will help stem the epidemic, as the developed world recording the latest cases has moved quickly to shut it down.

Last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the recent outbreak of monkeypox in more than 40 countries, mainly in Europe, as “unusual and concerning”. Monkeypox has sickened people in Central and West Africa for decades, with one disease killing up to 10 percent of people. To date, no deaths have been reported from the epidemic outside Africa.

“If WHO were really concerned about the spread of monkeypox, they could have called their emergency committee a few years ago, when it resurfaced in Nigeria in 2017 and no one knew why we suddenly had hundreds of cases,” Nigeria said virologist Oyewale Tomori. WHO Advisory Group. “It’s a little strange that the WHO only calls their experts when the disease is in a white country,” he said.

Until last month, monkeypox had not caused a major outbreak outside Africa. Scientists have yet to detect any major genetic changes in the virus, and a leading WHO adviser said last month that a surge in cases in Europe could be linked to the sexual activity of gay and bisexual men at two orgies in Spain and Belgium .

To date, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed more than 3,300 cases of monkeypox in 42 countries where the virus is not typically found. More than 80% of cases are in Europe. Meanwhile, Africa has seen more than 1,400 cases this year, including 62 deaths.

David Fiedler, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the WHO’s new focus on monkeypox as it spreads beyond Africa could inadvertently exacerbate the rift between rich and poor nations that has emerged during COVID-19. the gap.

“The WHO only sounded the alarm when monkeypox spread to rich countries, but for poor countries it looks like a double standard, which may be justified,” Fiedler said. He said the international community was still working to ensure the world’s poor were vaccinated against the coronavirus, and it was unclear whether Africans even wanted a monkeypox vaccine given competing priorities such as malaria and HIV.

“Unless African governments specifically request vaccines, it might be a little arrogant to send them because it’s in the West’s interest to stop monkeypox from being exported,” Fiedler said.

The WHO is also proposing a vaccine-sharing mechanism to help affected countries, which could potentially deliver vaccines to wealthy countries such as the UK, which has the largest monkeypox outbreak outside Africa – and has recently expanded access to the vaccine.

The vast majority of cases in Europe so far have been among gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men, but scientists warn that anyone who has been in close contact with an infected person or their clothing or sheets is at risk of infection, regardless of their sexual orientation how. People with monkeypox often experience symptoms such as fever, body aches, and rashes; most recover within a few weeks without medical treatment.

Even if the WHO declares monkeypox a global emergency, it’s unclear what impact this might have.

In January 2020, WHO declared COVID-19 an international emergency. But it wasn’t until March, when the group described it as a pandemic, and many other authorities did for weeks, that few countries took notice. The WHO has since come under fire for its multiple missteps throughout the pandemic, which some experts say may prompt a quicker response to monkeypox.

“After COVID, WHO doesn’t want to be the last to declare monkeypox an emergency,” said Amanda Glassman, executive vice president of the Center for Global Development. “This may not escalate to a COVID-like emergency, but It remains a public health emergency that needs to be addressed.”

The WHO and others should do more to stop monkeypox in Africa and elsewhere, said Salim Abdul Karim, an epidemiologist and vice-chancellor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. , but did not believe a global emergency declaration would help.

“There is a false belief that Africa is a poor, helpless continent, when in fact we do know how to deal with epidemics,” Abdul Karim said. Stopping the outbreak ultimately hinges on surveillance, isolation of patients and public education, among other things, he said.

“Maybe they need a vaccine in Europe to stop monkeypox, but here we’ve been able to control it with very simple measures,” he said.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.

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