Saturday, November 26, 2022

The WHO considers the outbreak of growing monkey pox to be a global health emergency

LONDON ( Associated Press) – The World Health Organization is convening its emergency committee on Thursday to consider whether the spiral outbreak of monkey pox justifies declaring it a global emergency. But some experts believe that the WHO’s decision to act only after the outbreak of the disease in the West could entrench the grotesque inequalities that arose between rich and poor countries during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Declaring monkey pox to be a global emergency would mean that the UN health agency views the outbreak as an “extraordinary event” and that the disease runs the risk of spreading across even more borders, possibly requiring a global response. It will also give monkey pox the same distinction as the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing effort to eradicate polio.

The WHO said it did not expect to announce any decisions taken by its emergency committee before Friday.

Many scientists doubt whether such a statement will help combat the epidemic, as the developed countries that recorded the most recent cases are already moving fast to close it.

Last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the recent monkey epidemic, which has been identified in more than 40 countries, mostly in Europe, as “unusual and worrying”.

Monkey pox has been making people sick for decades in Central and West Africa, where one version of the disease kills up to 10 percent of people infected. The version of the disease seen in Europe and elsewhere usually has a mortality rate of less than 1 percent and no deaths outside Africa have been reported so far.

“If the WHO was really concerned about the spread of monkey pox, they could have convened their emergency committee years ago when it reappeared in Nigeria and no one knew why we suddenly had hundreds of cases,” said Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian virologist sitting on several. WHO advisory groups. “It is a bit curious that the WHO only called their experts when the disease appeared in white countries,” he said.

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Until last month, smallpox did not cause significant outbreaks outside Africa. Scientists have found no mutations in the virus suggesting it is more transmissible, and a leading WHO adviser said last month that the rise of cases in Europe was likely linked to sexual activity among gay and bisexual men at two raves in Spain and Belgium.

To date, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed more than 3,300 cases of monkey pox in 42 countries where the virus has not been typically seen. More than 80 percent of the cases are in Europe. Meanwhile, Africa has already seen more than 1,400 cases this year, including 62 deaths.

David Fidler, a senior fellow in global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the WHO’s newfound attention to monkey pox amid its spread outside Africa could bridge the gap between rich and poor countries seen during COVID-19, accidentally aggravated.

“There may be legitimate reasons why the WHO first sounded the alarm when monkey pox spread to rich countries, but to poor countries it seems like a double standard,” Fidler said. He said the world community was still struggling to ensure that the world’s poor were vaccinated against the coronavirus and that it was unclear whether Africans even wanted monkey vaccines, given competitive priorities such as malaria and HIV.

“Unless African governments specifically ask for vaccines, it might be a little condescending to send them, because it’s in the West’s interest to stop monkey pox from being exported,” Fidler said.

The WHO has also proposed creating a vaccine-sharing mechanism to help affected countries, which could see doses go to rich countries such as Britain, which has the largest monkeypox outbreak outside Africa – and recently curtailed its use of vaccines expanded.

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To date, the vast majority of cases in Europe have been in men who are gay or bisexual, or other men who have sex with men, but scientists warn anyone in close contact with an infected person or their clothes or bedding are at risk of infection, regardless of their sexual orientation. People with monkey pox often experience symptoms such as fever, body aches and a rash; most recover within weeks without medical care.

Even though the WHO announces that smallpox is a global emergency, it is unclear what impact it could have.

In January 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 an international emergency. But few countries took notice until March, when the organization described it as a pandemic, weeks after many other authorities did so. The WHO was later assaulted for its multiple missteps during the pandemic, which some experts say could trigger a faster response to monkey pox.

“After COVID, the WHO does not want to be the last to declare monkey pox an emergency,” said Amanda Glassman, executive vice president at the Center for Global Development. “It may not rise to the level of a COVID-like emergency, but it is still a public health emergency that needs to be addressed.”

Salim Abdool Karim, an epidemiologist and vice-chancellor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, said the WHO and others should do more to stop monkey pox in Africa and elsewhere, but was not convinced that a global emergency would does not help.

“There is this misplaced idea that Africa is this poor, helpless continent, when in fact we know how to deal with epidemics,” Abdool Karim said. He said stopping the outbreak ultimately depends on things like supervision, isolation of patients and public education.

“Maybe they need vaccines in Europe to stop monkey pox, but here we could control it with very simple measures,” he said.

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