The World Health Organization (WHO) is meeting its emergency committee on Thursday to consider whether an outbreak of monkeypox requires declaring a global emergency. For some experts, a WHO decision to act only after the disease has spread across the West could perpetuate the vast inequalities that have emerged between rich and poor countries during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Declaring monkeypox a global emergency would mean that the United Nations health agency assesses the outbreak as an “extraordinary event” and that the disease could spread to even more countries. It would also give the disease the same distinction as the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing effort to eradicate polio.
Many scientists doubt that such a declaration will help contain the epidemic, as developed countries that have recorded the most recent cases move quickly to contain the problem. Last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described monkeypox as a disease identified in more than 40 countries, mostly in Europe, and as “unusual and concerning”.
It has been sickening people for decades in central and western Africa, where one version of the disease kills up to 10% of people. Apart from Africa, there have been no deaths recorded so far.
The WHO has also proposed the creation of a vaccine sharing mechanism to help affected countries.
So far, the vast majority of cases in Europe are in men who have had sex with men, but scientists warn that anyone in close contact with an infected person or their clothes or bedding is at risk of infection. People with the condition usually have symptoms such as fever, body ache and itching, but most recover within weeks without needing medical attention.