The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency after the virus reached more than 70 countries around the world.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference on Saturday that he decided the outbreak represents a “public health emergency of international concern.”
“WHO’s assessment is that the risk of monkeypox is moderate globally and in all regions, except in the European region where we assess the risk as high,” he said.
Tedros said the WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee came to a consensus at a meeting a month ago that monkeypox did not represent an international public health emergency, but the situation has changed.
He said the WHO had received reports of just more than 3,000 cases from 47 countries at the time, but more than 16,000 cases have now been reported from 75 countries and territories. He said there have been five deaths.
Tedros said the committee was unable to reach a consensus on whether the outbreak should be considered a public health emergency of international concern, but he considered five factors in declaring it an emergency.
He said the first factor is information countries have shared with the WHO, and that data from countries around the world shows that the virus has spread rapidly to many countries that have not seen it before.
He added that the second factor is the definition of a public health emergency and that the three criteria for declaring such an emergency have been met.
A public health emergency of international concern is considered a situation that is serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected, carries implications for public health beyond a country’s borders and may require immediate international action, according to the WHO.
Tedros said the third factor is the advice of the committee, which was divided, and the fourth factor is scientific principles and evidence, which is currently “insufficient” and leaves “many unknowns.”
He said the fifth factor is the risk to human health, international spread and the potential for interfering with international traffic.
He said there is a “clear risk” for international spread, but the risk of interfering with international traffic is currently low.
“So in short, we have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly, through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little and which meets the criteria in the International Health Regulations,” Tedros said.
The Hill has reached out to the WHO for comment.
Monkeypox has spread quickly in the United States since cases were first detected in the country in May. The virus appears to be spreading primarily among men who have sex with men and spreads through extended physical contact.
The virus can cause symptoms like lesions, a rash and swelling of lymph nodes.
— Updated at 11:14 a.m.