Disease experts call on WHO, governments for more action on monkeypox

The WHO is considering whether the monkeypox outbreak should be assessed as a potential public health emergency of international concern.

Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organisation (WHO), attends a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland May 3, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE)
Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organisation (WHO), attends a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland May 3, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE)

Some prominent infectious disease experts are pushing for faster action from global health authorities to contain a growing monkeypox outbreak that has spread to at least 20 countries.

They are arguing that governments and the World Health Organization should not repeat the early missteps of the COVID-19 pandemic that delayed the detection of cases, helping the virus spread.

While monkeypox is not as transmissible or dangerous as COVID, these scientists say, there needs to be clearer guidance on how a person infected with monkeypox should isolate, more explicit advice on how to protect people who are at risk, and improved testing and contact tracing.

"If this becomes endemic (in more countries), we will have another nasty disease and many difficult decisions to take," said Isabelle Eckerle, a professor at the Geneva Centre for Emerging Viral Diseases in Switzerland.

The WHO is considering whether the outbreak should be assessed as a potential public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), an official told Reuters. A WHO determination that an outbreak constitutes a global health emergency - as it did with COVID or Ebola - would help accelerate research and funding to contain a disease.

"(On monkeypox) it is always under consideration, but no emergency committee as yet"

Mike Ryan, director of the WHOs health emergencies program, from the sidelines of the agencys annual meeting in Geneva
Test tubes labelled ''Monkeypox virus positive and negative'' are seen in this illustration taken May 23, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC/ILLUSTRATION)Test tubes labelled ''Monkeypox virus positive and negative'' are seen in this illustration taken May 23, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC/ILLUSTRATION)

WHO 'unlikely' to declare monkeypox emergency 

However, experts say it is unlikely the WHO would reach such a conclusion soon because monkeypox is a known threat the world has tools to fight. Discussing whether to set up an emergency committee, the body that recommends declaring a PHEIC is just part of the agency's routine response, WHO officials said.

Eckerle called for the WHO to encourage countries to put more coordinated and stringent isolation measures in place even without an emergency declaration. She worries that talk of the virus being mild, as well as the availability of vaccines and treatments in some countries, "potentially leads to lazy behavior from public health authorities."