The World Health Organization convened its Emergency Committee on Thursday to consider whether the growing monkeypox outbreak warrants declaring a global emergency. But some experts say the WHO’s decision to act only after the disease has spread to the west could erase the stark disparities between rich and poor countries that have emerged during the coronavirus pandemic.
Declaring monkeypox a global emergency would mean that the United Nations health agency would consider the outbreak an “extraordinary event” and that the disease threatens to spread beyond even wider borders, potentially requiring a global response. This gives monkeypox the same honor as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and polio eradication efforts.
The WHO said it does not expect to announce decisions from its emergency committee before Friday.
Many scientists are skeptical that such an announcement will help contain the pandemic, as developed countries that have recently recorded cases are already moving quickly to end it.
Last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the monkeypox epidemic recently detected in more than 40 countries, mostly in Europe, as “unusual and worrying”. Monkeypox has been endemic in central and western Africa for decades, where a variant of the disease kills up to 10% of those infected. The variant of the disease, which occurs in Europe and elsewhere, usually has a mortality rate of less than 1%, and no deaths have been reported outside of Africa.
“If the WHO was really concerned about the monkeypox outbreak, they could have called their emergency committee years ago when Nigeria flared up again in 2017 and no one knew why we suddenly had hundreds of cases,” he said. Said Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian virologist who sits on many. WHO Advisory Group. “It’s a little strange that the WHO only called their experts when the disease was emerging in white countries,” he said.
As of last month, monkeypox had not caused a large-scale outbreak outside of Africa. Scientists have found no mutations in the virus to suggest it’s more contagious, and a key WHO advisory last month said Europe’s cases between gay and bisexual men in Spain and Belgium have risen in two waves. was related to the activity. ,
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 common. More than 80% of cases occur in Europe. Meanwhile, Africa has reported 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 amid the outbreak outside Africa may unintentionally exacerbate the gap between rich and poor countries seen during COVID-19.
“There may be valid reasons why the WHO only sounded the alarm when monkeypox spread in rich countries, but in poor countries it looks like double standards,” Fiedler said. He said the global community was still struggling to ensure the world’s poor were vaccinated against the coronavirus and it was unclear whether Africans also wanted the monkeypox vaccine given competing priorities such as malaria and HIV. look at.
“Unless African governments specifically ask for vaccines, shipping them can offer little protection as it is in the West’s interest to prevent monkeypox exports,” Fiedler said.
The WHO has also proposed creating a vaccine-sharing mechanism to help affected countries, which could see doses in wealthy countries like the UK, which is home to the largest monkeypox outbreak beyond Africa – and, more recently, vaccine deployment to restrict. widened.
So far, most cases in Europe have been in men who are gay or bisexual, or other men who have sex with men, but scientists warn that close contact with an infected person or their clothing or bedding can cause infection . There is danger. , regardless of their sexual orientation. People with monkeypox often have symptoms such as fever, body aches, and skin rashes; Most recover within weeks without medical attention.
Although the WHO has declared monkeypox a global emergency, it is not clear what impact this might have.
In January 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 an international emergency. However, some countries took notice until March, when the organization labeled it a pandemic, weeks after several other officials did the same. The WHO was later criticized for its many missteps during the pandemic, which some experts say could be a sign of a swift 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. “May not escalate to the level of a COVID-like emergency, but it’s still a public health emergency that needs to be addressed.”
Salim Abdul Karim, an epidemiologist and vice-chancellor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, said WHO and others should do more to prevent monkeypox in Africa and elsewhere, but weren’t convinced a global emergency declaration would help. Will get
“It’s a misconception that Africa is this poor, helpless continent when in reality we know how to deal with the pandemic,” Abdul Karim said. He said stopping the outbreak ultimately depends on things like surveillance, patient isolation and public education.
“Maybe they need vaccines to prevent monkeypox in Europe, but here we can control them with very simple measures,” he said.