WHO panel to discuss monkeypox outbreak

WHO panel to discuss monkeypox outbreak

A panel of experts from the World Health Organization will meet on Thursday to discuss the monkeypox outbreak for the first time and decide whether it is a global health emergency.

The one-day meeting, which was held in private, was due to start at 1000 GMT, with a statement on the outcome likely to be issued on Friday.

Since May, a surge in monkeypox cases has been detected in the West and Central African countries where the disease has been endemic. The emergency committee was set up by WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to assess whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.

A PHEIC is the highest alarm that the WHO can sound, under the International Health Regulations, the legally binding framework agreed by 196 countries on handling public health events that could cross borders.

Besides providing a PHEIC assessment, the committee members are expected to give advice on how to prevent the spread of the disease and manage their response.

The emergency committee will provide a recommendation to the director-general based on scientific principles, an assessment of the risk to human health, the risk of international spread, and the risk of interference with international traffic, the WHO said.

Tedros makes the final decision on whether a PHEIC should be declared, based on their advice.

Since 2009, there have been six PHEIC declarations - the last being for Covid -- 19 in 2020 -- though the sluggish global response to the alarm bell still ranks at the WHO's Geneva headquarters.

Emergency committee meetings on the new coronavirus outbreak were held on January 22 and 23, 2020, but the panel could not agree at that time that the PHEIC threshold had been reached.

A PHEIC was declared after a third meeting on January 30. It was only after March 11, when Tedros described the rapidly-worsening situation as a pandemic, that many countries seemed to wake up to the danger.

Some 2,103 laboratory-confirmed cases and one probable case of monkeypox, including one death, have been reported to the WHO from 42 countries this year.

As of Tuesday, 2,746 cases had been recorded in Europe, according to the WHO's Europe office and the EU health agency ECDC.

The WHO said that the monkeypox is primarily affecting men who have sex with men who have reported recent sex with multiple partners.

Some 84 percent of the cases have been found in Europe, with the most cases coming from Britain, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Canada and France.

The WHO says there may have been undetected transmission for some time before it appears in multiple countries.

The UN health agency assesses the global risk level as moderate, considering the low mortality rate.

Tedros announced on June 14 that he would convene an emergency committee, describing the outbreak as unusual and concerning.