The rapidly spreading monkeypox outbreak is a global health emergency, according to World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Saturday.
The WHO designation as a “public health emergency of international concern” is intended to raise awareness that a coordinated international response is required, potentially unlocking funding and global efforts to collaborate on vaccine and treatment sharing.
Members of an expert committee that met on Thursday to discuss the potential recommendation were divided on the decision, two sources told Reuters earlier, but the final decision rests with the UN agency’s director-general.
During a press conference in Geneva to announce his decision to declare a health emergency, Tedros confirmed that the committee had failed to reach a consensus, with nine members opposed to the declaration and six in favor.
Previously, Tedros had typically backed expert committee recommendations, but sources said he had likely decided to support the highest alert level due to concerns about rising case rates and a lack of vaccines and treatments, despite the lack of a majority opinion.
Lawrence Gostin, a law professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, who follows the WHO, praised the organization’s political bravery.
“It does nothing but enhance WHO’s standing.” The correct outcome is obvious — failing to declare an emergency at this time would be a historic blunder.”
This year, there have been over 16,000 cases of monkeypox in over 75 countries, with five deaths in Africa.