The announcement was made by the WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Saturday 23 July. The reclassification of the outbreak to the WHO’s highest level of seriousness is intended to trigger a coordinated international response and encourage collaboration on the development and sharing of treatments, and was decided at a meeting of experts on Thursday 21 July.
So far this year, there have been more than 16,000 cases of monkeypox in more than 75 countries, and five deaths in Africa. Cases have risen rapidly since the previous committee meeting at the end of June, when there were only around 3,000 cases worldwide. As of 25 May 2022, there were a total of 219 confirmed cases worldwide. At that meeting, the expert group agreed to reconsider their position on declaring an emergency if the outbreak escalated.
The disease is spread via close contact and is characterised by flu-like symptoms and pus-filled skin lesions. The global risk of the virus is deemed to be ‘moderate’, except in Europe where the WHO has classified the risk as ‘high’.
Outside of Africa, where the viral disease is endemic, the recent monkeypox outbreak has been chiefly spread by men who have sex with men, ‘especially those with multiple sexual partners’, says Tedros. However, he warned against prejudicing any attempt to tackle the outbreak, saying that ‘stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus.’