Amid reports of surging cases in Europe, a special committee of the World Health Organization began meeting Thursday to decide whether monkeypox should be declared a global “public health emergency.”
The emergency committee will advise the WHO chief “on whether the event constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC),” the WHO’s highest alert level, said the UN health agency.
Since early May, cases of monkeypox have been reported from countries where the disease is not endemic, along with continuing reports in several endemic countries, according to the WHO.
The WHO said 2,746 cases of monkeypox had been identified by June 21 in 29 countries and areas throughout the European region.
Most confirmed cases with a travel history reported visits to countries in Europe and North America rather than West or Central Africa, where the monkeypox virus is endemic.
This is the first time that so many monkeypox cases and clusters have been reported concurrently in non-endemic and endemic countries in disparate geographical areas.
“Most reported cases so far have been identified through sexual health or other health services in primary or secondary health-care facilities and have involved mainly, but not exclusively, men who have sex with men,” said the WHO.
There have been nine emergency committees under international health regulations so far, including two ongoing ones on polio and COVID-19, said WHO.
Monkeypox is an orthopoxvirus that causes a disease with symptoms similar to, but less severe than, smallpox.
While smallpox was eradicated in 1980, monkeypox continues to occur in countries in central and western parts of Africa, according to the WHO./aa