Global monkeypox cases have topped 14,000, raising fears of an “international emergency” for the World Health Organization (WHO).
The agency’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday (20 July) monkeypox has now spread across 70 countries. Five people have died of monkeypox in Africa, he added.
While monkeypox is in decline in some countries, it is still popping up for the first time in others. India, for example, reported its second case earlier on Wednesday.
“Some of these countries have much less access to diagnostics and vaccines, making the outbreak harder to track, and harder to stop,” Ghebreyesus said at a COVID-19 media briefing.
The outbreak continues to have a disproportionate impact on gay and bi men, and other men who have sex with men, Ghebreyesus said.
He added: “One of the most powerful tools we have against monkeypox is information.
“The more information people at risk of monkeypox have, the more they are able to protect themselves.”
WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee will convene on Thursday to decide whether to declare monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern.
If WHO does sound the alarm, this would mean monkeypox is “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other states,” according to international health regulations.
This would mean countries worldwide would be urged to work together to tackle the outbreak.
WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said ‘information’ is the most important monkeypox-fighting tool. (Ludovic Marin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
The committee consists of various disease experts who have, in the past, considered diseases such as swine flu, ebola and COVID-19 to be public health emergencies.
“Regardless of the committee’s recommendation, WHO will continue to do everything we can to support countries to stop transmission and save lives,” Ghebreyesus said.
Monkeypox, endemic in parts of Central and West Africa, is similar to smallpox but milder.
The virus creates a rash that starts with flat red marks that then raise and fill with pus. Infected people often report body aches and fevers.
Symptoms take about six to 13 days to show but can take upwards of three weeks after exposure. It spreads mainly through close contact, such as body fluids and respiratory droplets.
Experts have stressed, however, monkeypox certainly isn’t the next COVID-19. Monkeypox evolves very slowly, unlike COVID-19, and a vaccine is ready to go.
In many countries, health officials have rolled out targeted monkeypox vaccine programmes for queer men. Although the virus is not a “gay disease” by any means, higher caseloads have been found among the group.
WHO issued new guidance for queer men on Monday, saying: “Given that the virus is being identified in these communities, learning about monkeypox will help ensure that as few people as possible are affected and that the outbreak can be stopped.”