Monkeypox outbreak declared "emergency of international concern"
Geneva, Switzerland - The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the monkeypox outbreak in more than 50 countries an "emergency of international concern," while health officials confirmed the first two cases in US children.
After convening for a meeting on Saturday over the rising number of monkeypox cases around the world and the virus' spread, the international health body's emergency committee has issued a stark warning.
"Although I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern, for the moment this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
"That means that this is an outbreak that can be stopped with the right strategies in the right groups."
"Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus," he also warned.
Declaring an emergency is the WHO's highest alert level for health threats, but it has no immediate consequences. It is meant to alert governments to take action to protect their populations.
Governments are advised to raise awareness among doctors and hospitals, take protective measures in suspected cases, and educate members of the population on how to protect themselves from infection.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) raised the alert level in the United States in early June. On Friday, it confirmed two cases of monkeypox have been identified in children in the US.
The US government had shipped 300,000 monkeypox vaccines to US states as of Friday, and the virus can be treated with antiviral medication. It's tally of known cases in the US was at 2,891.
Monkeypox spreads throughout the world
Tedros said there have been more than 16,000 confirmed cases in more than 60 countries, many of which had previously known virtually no monkeypox cases. In six African countries, where the virus has also infected humans before, there were more than 240 cases.
A committee of independent experts had previously failed to agree on a joint recommendation on whether an emergency should be declared.
The WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak as such an emergency in 2020.
However, while the coronavirus spreads through aerosols containing virus particles emitted by breathing, talking, or coughing, monkeypox infections usually occur through close physical contact.
Cover photo: Collage: REUTERS