WHO considers declaring monkeypox a global health emergency
June 24, 2022

In News:

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently convened its emergency committee to consider whether the monkeypox outbreak warrants declaring a global emergency. 

What’s in today’s article:

  • About monkeypox
  • IHR (Overview, implementation)
  • News Summary

About monkeypox:

  • Monkeypox is a rare zoonotic (disease that spreads from animals to humans) viral disease belonging to the Orthopoxvirus genus in the Poxviridae family, the same virus family as smallpox.
  • Monkeypox was first discovered in animals in 1958 when two outbreaks occurred in captive monkey colonies kept for research purposes. Hence, the name ‘monkeypox’.
  • People with monkeypox often experience symptoms like fever, body aches and a rash. Most recover within weeks without needing medical care.
  • There is currently no specific treatment for monkeypox. However, the Vaccinia vaccine, which was used against smallpox, had shown 85% efficacy in monkeypox prevention.

International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR):

  • Overview:
    • The IHR are an instrument of international law that is legally-binding on 196 countries, including the 194 WHO Member States.
    • While disease outbreaks are often unpredictable and require a range of responses, the IHR provides an overarching legal framework to deal with it.
    • The framework defines countries’ rights and obligations in handling public health events and emergencies that have the potential to cross borders.
    • It requires countries to designate a National IHR Focal Point for communications with WHO, to establish and maintain core capacities for surveillance and response.
    • The Regulations also outline the criteria to determine whether or not a particular event constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC)”.
      • If a PHEIC (highest level of alert declared by the WHO) is declared, WHO develops and recommends the critical health measures for implementation by Member States during such an emergency.
  • Implementation:
    • The responsibility for implementing the IHR rests upon all States Parties that are bound by the Regulations and on WHO.
      • The goal of country implementation is to limit the spread of health risks to neighbouring countries and to prevent unwarranted travel and trade restrictions.
    • WHO plays the coordinating role in IHR implementation and helps countries to build capacities.
    • The IHR requires that all countries have the ability to detect, assess and report and respond to public health risks and emergencies.

News Summary:

  • To date, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed more than 3,300 cases (more than 80% in Europe) of monkeypox in 42 countries where the virus has not previously been seen.
  • Recently, WHO Director-General described the recent monkeypox epidemic identified in more than 40 countries (mostly in Europe), as “unusual and concerning.”
    • Stopping the outbreak ultimately depends on things like surveillance, isolating patients and public education.

Monkeypox as global emergency

  • Declaring monkeypox to be a global emergency would mean the U.N. health agency considers the outbreak to be an “extraordinary event” and that the disease is at risk of spreading across even more borders.
  • It would also give monkeypox the same distinction as the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing effort to eradicate polio.

Vaccine sharing mechanism to deal with the Monkeypox

  • WHO has also proposed creating a vaccine-sharing mechanism to help affected countries.
  • Many scientists, however, doubt that such a declaration would help to curb the epidemic.
  • This is due to the fact that the developed countries recording the most recent cases are already moving quickly to stop it.

Criticism faced by WHO

  • If WHO was truly concerned about the spread of monkeypox, they could have convened an emergency committee years ago, when it resurfaced in Nigeria in 2017 and no one knew why there were suddenly hundreds of cases.
  • It's odd that WHO only called in their experts when the disease appeared in Europe.
  • Even if WHO announces monkeypox is a global emergency, it is unclear what impact that might have.
    • In January 2020, WHO declared that COVID-19 was an international emergency.
    • But few countries took notice until March, when the organisation described it as a pandemic.