The rapidly spreading monkeypox outbreak represents a global health emergency, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media briefing Saturday.
The WHO label – a “public health emergency of international concern” – is designed to sound an alarm that a coordinated international response is needed and could unlock funding and global efforts to collaborate on sharing vaccines and treatments.
There are already effective treatments and vaccines for monkeypox, but they are in short supply. The WHO has also already been providing advice and updates since the outbreak began in early May.
At the first meeting of the expert committee, the group said it would reconsider its position on the emergency declaration if the outbreak escalated.
In Europe and the United States, cases have almost entirely been reported among men who have sex with men, and the committee also said it would reconsider if other groups began to report cases, particularly children or others who have been more vulnerable to the virus in past outbreaks in endemic countries.
On Friday, the United States identified its first two monkeypox cases in children.
Any changes to the virus itself, which spreads through close contact and causes lesions and flu-like symptoms, could also spark a rethink, the committee has said.
The group is now split between those who think an emergency declaration would accelerate efforts to contain the disease, and those who do not think it meets the criteria because it has not yet spread to new groups of people or had a high fatality rate, the sources said.