Monkeypox: what is a global health emergency as declared by the WHO?

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Monkeypox has been declared a Global Emergency (Image: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty)

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Saturday (July 23) declared the monkeypox outbreak a global emergency.

The news comes as the total number of cases in the UK tops 2,000.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the risk of monkeypox is moderate worldwide except in Europe, where the WHO estimates the risk to be high.

But what exactly is a global health emergency, and has one been declared before?

Here’s everything you need to know.

What is a global health emergency?

A global emergency is the WHO’s highest alert level.

Nurse prepares a monkeypox vaccine

A global health emergency is the highest alert the WHO can declare (Image: Hollie Adams/Getty)

The status, officially known as PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern), marks an escalation in the response to the disease.

The designation means the WHO now views the outbreak as a global health threat large enough to warrant urgent action prevent it from spreading further and potentially escalating into a pandemic.

The statement is intended to spark an international response and could lead to funding for collaboration on vaccine and treatment sharing.

Under the International Health Regulations (IHR) of 2005, states have a legal obligation to respond promptly to a PHEIC.

Before a global health emergency is declared, the WHO Emergency Committee meets to weigh the evidence and make a recommendation to the Director-General.

The committee met last month to discuss declaring monkeypox a global emergency, but decided against it.

At that time there were 3,040 cases in 47 countries.

Since then, however, the situation has accelerated rapidly – there are now 16,000 cases in 75 countries, with five deaths recorded.

They met again on Thursday and were split over the decision, with nine members opposed and six in favor of the declaration – prompting Tedros to break the impasse.

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He said: “We have an outbreak that has spread rapidly around the world through new modes of transmission that we understand too little about.

“For all of these reasons, I have come to the conclusion that the worldwide outbreak of monkeypox constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.”

Has a global health emergency already been declared?

Yes, the WHO has declared a global health emergency six more times – the first being swine flu in 2009.

The designations are temporary and must be reviewed every three months.


All WHO Global Health Emergencies

The emergencies are as follows:

  • 2022 – monkey pox
  • 2020 – Covid-19
  • 2018-20 – Kivu Ebola
  • 2016 – zika virus
  • 2014 – Ebola
  • 2014 – polio
  • 2009 – swine flu

Covid-19 was declared a global health emergency on January 30, 2020.

At that point, 170 people had died from the virus in China, with 98 cases in 18 countries outside the country.

MORE : New monkeypox symptoms identified as cases climb past 2,000 in UK

MORE: Man infected with monkeypox and Covid at the same time

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Justin Scacco

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