WHO’s Tedros Overrules Own Committee To Declare Monkeypox “Global Emergency”

One day after the global case count top 16,000 and the US records its first cases involving children, WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the global spread of monkeypox a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’, one level below the pandemic status assigned to COVID-19.

There are now more than 16,000 cases of monkeypox outside Africa, roughly five times the number when the advisers met in June and declined to formally declare it a public health emergency, the New York Times reports.


Tedros said after a discussion with the WHO’s emergency committee:

“We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly, through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little,” pointing out that cases are increasingly occurring countries where it is traditionally not found, as well as the growing risk to human health, Tedros added that “for all of these reasons, I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.”

The first European cases occurred almost exclusively in gay and bisexual men, with health officials noting that lesions were appearing on patients’ genitals. While it is unclear whether the current outbreak is spreading solely through sexual contact, Tedros stated that “this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners.”

Both cases involving children in the US “are traced back to individuals who come from the…gay men’s community,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky told the Washington Post, although she did not clarify whether these children caught the disease sexually or non-sexually.

At least five children in Europe have also been infected.

Tedros’ decision also comes shortly after the first major peer-reviewed study of monkeypox infections was released, confirming, as Caden Pearson reports, that the virus is primarily being transmitted through the sexual activity of gay and bisexual men in the United States and around the world.

The Journal of New England Medicine on Thursday published a study that looked at monkeypox infection across 16 countries between April and June, when cases began to emerge in countries outside of Africa.

The study reported on 528 infections diagnosed between April 27 and June 24, of which 98 percent were in gay or bisexual men with a median age of 38. Of these cases, 95 percent of the infections were suspected to have been transmitted through sexual activity—41 percent also had HIV.

Tedros called on groups representing gay men to “adopt measures that protect both the health, human rights and dignity of affected communities,” although the WHO chief stopped short of calling on these men to abstain from sexual activity.

An uptick in recent US cases suggests transmission occurred at the tail end of Pride Month in late June and early July, based on the study finding that incubation is between three and 20 days (usually seven days).

CDC officials were hesitant to recommend canceling marquee US LGBT events, similar to the super-spreading events in Europe that occurred the month prior.

LGBT event organizers were also treading carefully in the spring, wanting to avoid stigmatizing the LGBT community. US health officials opted instead to boost targeted messaging to warn gay and bisexual men, who were deemed most at risk.

The director-general noted that the WHO’s Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulation was “unable to reach a consensus” on whether to make the declaration itself (he actually over-ruled the committee which voted 9 to 6 against the declaration), compelling Tedros to make the declaration on his own. 

“[W]ith the tools we have right now, we can stop transmission and bring this outbreak under control,” he said. 

It appears the next ‘thing to fear’ is here.

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