Crucial meeting at WHO on monkeypox: highest level of alert could be triggered

This committee has 16 members, and is co-chaired by Dr Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele from the Democratic Republic of Congo, former director of the Department of Immunization and Vaccines at the World Health Organization, and Dr Nicola Low, professor in epidemiology at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

An unusual upsurge in monkeypox cases has been detected since May outside the countries of West and Central Africa where the virus normally circulates. The European region is at the center of the spread of the virus.

Known in humans since 1970, monkeypox or “simian orthopoxvirus” is a disease considered rare.

It first results in a high fever and quickly evolves into a rash, with the formation of scabs. Most often benign, it generally heals spontaneously after two to three weeks.

Faced with the global outbreak of cases, the WHO announced on June 14 that it wanted to convene an emergency committee to determine whether the situation constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern”, the highest level of alert of the organization. Such an emergency was, for example, declared at the beginning of 2020 for the Covid-19 pandemic and twice for the Ebola virus.

The final decision always rests with the head of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

If the health emergency is declared, the committee is also responsible for making recommendations “on how to better prevent and reduce the spread of the disease and manage the global public health response”.

– “Have earlier tests” –

From January 1 to June 15, 2,103 confirmed cases, including one death in Nigeria, were reported to WHO from 42 countries, including Africa. For its part, the European regional office of the WHO indicated on Wednesday that 2,746 cases had been reported as of June 21.

The WHO considers it likely that the true number of cases is higher across the world, and considers that the virus must have already been circulating before the current outbreak – possibly since 2017 – without its transmission being detected.

“We did not expect to have such a large number of cases. And it’s a bit difficult to see what is the tip of the iceberg”, in particular because screening is not easy, Philippe Duneton, executive director of Unitaid, an organization that helps people, told AFP. poor countries to prevent, diagnose and treat disease.

“There are no easy-to-use tests to screen for. This is essentially done clinically. And therefore an important issue is to have tests which are obviously earlier and which make it possible to detect cases, especially in contact cases, ”he explained.

Known in humans since 1970, monkeypox is considered much less dangerous and contagious than its cousin, smallpox, eradicated in 1980. It is a disease considered rare, due to a virus transmitted to humans by infected animals.

But in the current outbreak, human-to-human transmission is at the forefront.

The majority of reported cases so far involve men who have sex with men. If it is not a sexually transmitted infection, transmission can occur through close contact such as having sex.

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