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Is monkeypox going to be next pandemic? Know what WHO said in emergency meeting

As more than 3,200 confirmed monkeypox cases and one death were reported globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) convened its emergency committee to consider if the spiralling outbreak of monkeypox warrants being declared a global emergency.

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

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

Declaring monkeypox to be a global emergency would mean the UN health agency considers the outbreak to be an “extraordinary event” and that the disease is at risk of spreading across even more borders, possibly requiring a global response.

Some experts have said that WHO’s decision to act only after the disease spilled into the West could entrench the grotesque inequities that arose between rich and poor countries during the coronavirus pandemic.

“If WHO was really worried about monkeypox spread, they could have convened their emergency committee years ago when it reemerged in Nigeria in 2017 and no one knew why we suddenly had hundreds of cases,” said Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian virologist who sits on several WHO advisory groups.

“It is a bit curious that WHO only called their experts when the disease showed up in white countries,” he said.

David Fidler, a senior fellow in global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the WHO’s newfound attention to monkeypox amid its spread beyond Africa could inadvertently worsen the divide between rich and poor countries seen during COVID-19.

“There may be legitimate reasons why WHO only raised the alarm when monkeypox spread to rich countries, but to poor countries, that looks like a double standard,” Fidler said.

So far, Europe has reported more than 80% of the cases while Africa has already seen more than 1,400 cases this year, including 62 deaths.

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 clothing or bedsheets is at risk of infection, regardless of their sexual orientation.

People with monkeypox often experience symptoms like fever, body aches, and a rash; most recover within weeks without medical care.

Even if the WHO announces monkeypox is a global emergency, it’s unclear what impact that might have.

Salim Abdool Karim, an epidemiologist and vice-chancellor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, said the WHO and others should be doing more to stop monkeypox in Africa and elsewhere, but wasn’t convinced that a global emergency declaration would help.

“There is this misplaced idea that Africa is this poor, helpless continent, when in fact, we do know how to deal with epidemics,” said Abdool Karim.

He said that stopping the outbreak ultimately depends on things like surveillance, isolating patients, and public education.

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