Home / News / World /  Should WHO declare Monkeypox a global emergency? Experts say ‘it's complicated’

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is set to convene once again to deliberate on declaring Monkeypox a global crisis. However, some scientists and experts have raised their doubts about it. 

While African officials are already treating the disease as an emergency, experts elsewhere have cited striking differences between the outbreaks in Africa and in developed countries and said it is bound to complicate any coordinated response.

Some experts have also stated that the declaration of Monkeypox as an emergency is unnecessary due to the mild version of the disease being seen in Europe, North America and beyond.

British officials recently downgraded their assessment of the disease, given its lack of severity.

“What’s happening in Africa is almost entirely separate from the outbreak in Europe and North America," said Dr Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the Britain’s University of East Anglia who previously advised WHO on infectious diseases.

He also made a case for vaccinations as the best way to curb the spread of the virus. 

He referred to the WHO statement which said that outside of Africa, 99% of all reported Monkeypox cases are in men and of those, 98% are in men who have sex with other men.

“In these very active gay sexual networks, you have men who really, really don’t want people to know what they’re doing and may not themselves always know who they are having sex with," Hunter said.

Some of those men may be married to women or have families unaware of their sexual activity, which “makes contact tracing extremely difficult and even things like asking people to come forward for testing," he added. 

It needs to be noted here that the situation in Africa is different, where limited data suggests Monkeypox is mainly jumping into people from infected animals.

Dr Placide Mbala, a virologist who directs the global health department at Congo’s Institute of National Biomedical Research, has also pointed out that there are noticeable differences between patients in Africa and the West.

“We see here (in Congo) very quickly, after three to four days, visible lesions in people exposed to Monkeypox," Mbala said, adding that someone with so many visible lesions is unlikely to go out in public, thus preventing further transmission.

But in countries including Britain and the US, doctors have observed some infected people with only one or two lesions, often in their genitals.

“You wouldn’t notice that if you’re just with that person in a taxi or a bar," Mbala said. “So in the West, people without these visible lesions may be silently spreading the disease."

Global cases 

Around 14,000 cases of Monkeypox have been confirmed in over 70 countries this year and a total of five deaths have been reported in Africa, said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday.

The WHO chief assured that the organization will continue to do everything it can to support countries to stop transmission and save lives.

Tedros also said that although there are some countries that are registering a decline in the cases, many are witnessing an increase and around six countries reported their first cases of Monkeypox last week.

"Most cases continue to be reported from Europe, primarily among men who have sex with men," he said.

He added that the outbreak is harder to track and stop because many countries that are reporting the cases have less access to diagnostics and vaccines.

Call for vaccination 

Some experts have raised concerns that declaring Monkeypox as a global emergency could also inadvertently worsen the rush for vaccines, despite the mildness of the disease being seen in most countries.

Dr Dimie Ogoina, a professor of medicine at Nigeria's Niger Delta University, said he feared the world’s limited vaccine supplies would result in a repeat of the problems that arose in the coronavirus pandemic when poorer countries were left empty-handed after rich countries hoarded most of the doses.

“It does not make sense to just control the outbreak in Europe and America because you will then still have the (animal) source of the outbreak in Africa," said Ogoina, who sits on WHO’s Monkeypox emergency committee.

With inputs from agencies. 

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