by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that the spread of the Monkeypox virus is 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 is high. There is also a clear risk of further international spread, although the risk of interference with international traffic remains low for the moment. 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 international health regulations. For all of these reasons, I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO, during a Media briefing on monkeypox on July 23.
In June, the Director General convened the committee under the international health regulation to assess whether the outbreak of monkeypox in multiple countries represented a public health emergency of international concern. At that meeting, the committee, by consensus, determined at the time it did not represent such a classification.
Another emergency committee meeting was convened on July 21 because of the current spread of the monkeypox virus. There are more than 16,000 confirmed cases of the virus in 77 countries/territories and five deaths. At the meeting, a consensus was not reached on whether to declare it a public health emergency of international concern.
Thus, Dr Ghebreyesus, in his capacity as director general, determined it necessary to make the declaration without a consensus from the committee.
Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, explained why such a decision was made without the committee’s input.
“In this case, he’s not going against their advice or findings; he found that the committee did not reach consensus despite having a very open, very useful, very considered debate on the issues, and that says he’s not going against the committee. What he’s recognising is that there are deep complexities in this issue, there are uncertainties on all sides, and he is reflecting that uncertainty in his determination.”
Dr Ghebreysus outlined during the media briefing five considerations that he must review before declaring a public health emergency of international concern.
“Under the International Health Regulations, I’m required to consider five elements in deciding whether an outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern. First, the information provided by countries which in this case shows that this virus has spread rapidly to many countries that have not seen it before. Second, the three criteria for declaring a public health emergency of international concern under international health regulations, which have been met. Third, the advice of the Emergency Committee which has not reached a consensus. Fourth, scientific principles, evidence and other relevant information, which are currently insufficient and leave us with many unknowns, and fifth, the risk to human health, international spread and the potential for interference with international traffic.”
Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, Dr Ryan, said that efforts can now be intensified to control the spread of the virus.
The Director general also outlined some recommendations for the way forward,
“Accordingly, I have made a set of recommendations for four groups of countries first, those that have not yet reported a case of monkeypox or have not reported the case for more than 21 days. Second, those with recently imported cases of monkeypox and that are experiencing human-to-human transmission. This includes recommendations to implement the coordinated response to stop transmission and protect vulnerable groups, to engage and project-affected communities, to intensify surveillance and public health measures, to strengthen clinical management and infection prevention and control in hospitals and clinics, to accelerate research into the use of vaccines, therapeutics and other tools and recommendations on international travel. The second group of countries is those with transmission of monkeypox between animals and humans, and the fourth is countries with manufacturing capacity for diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics.”
The full list of recommendations can be found here: https://www.who.int/news/item/23-07-2022-second-meeting-of-the-international-health-regulations-(2005)-(ihr)-emergency-committee-regarding-the-multi-country-outbreak-of-monkeypox.
The spread of the Monkeypox virus is now the seventh time the public health emergency of international concern declaration has been made since 2009, with the most recent declaration being for COVID-19 in 2020, which remains a public health emergency of international concern.
Health authorities in St. Kitts and Nevis have said there are no suspected, confirmed or pending results for monkeypox.
In the region, Jamaica, the Bahamas, St. Lucia and the Dominican Republic have had suspected or confirmed cases of the virus.
Regional health bodies, PAHO and CARPHA, are monitoring the spread of the virus in the region of the Americas, where according to the weekly epidemiology report from PAHO, as of July 21, there are 3,772 confirmed cases in 18 countries.
Watch the WHO’s full media briefing on monkeypox here: