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Monkeypox: Health experts hope WHO's public health emergency declaration resets response to 'emerging pandemic'
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Monkeypox: Health experts hope WHO's public health emergency declaration resets response to 'emerging pandemic'

The World Health Organization's move to declare monkeypox a public health emergency has been welcomed by health experts, with hopes the decision will ramp up the response to the "emerging pandemic".  

The WHO's Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, declared on Saturday that the rapidly spreading viral disease is a "public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC)" as the rate of transmission picks up across the globe.

Responding to the announcement, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Emory University, Dr Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, welcomed the move, noting that monkeypox had met the PHEIC criteria for "several weeks now".

"It is 'an extraordinary event which constitutes a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease and potentially requires a coordinated international response'," she said following the news.

"I hope that this will raise the international priority level on monkeypox and galvanise a more coordinated global response which has sadly been lacking so far."

Now is the time to "get things right" regarding global health equity and access to testing, Prof Titanji said, adding: "Vaccination, antiviral medications etc, which are areas in which historically we have seen many failures, resulting in countries with limited resources being left behind." 

Titanji warned that public health agencies "must do everything within [their] power" to prevent another zoonotic virus infection from firmly establishing itself among the human population, as the world begins to recover from the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"The PHEIC is just the first step and there is a lot of work that needs to be done here onward," Prof Titanji said. 

"It is nonetheless an important move which hopefully corrects the course of the response to this emerging pandemic."

Emeritus Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Professor Jimmy Whitworth, noted that the PHEIC - the highest level of alert the WHO can declare - was much-needed. 

"This has been declared because the current monkeypox outbreak is unprecedented with widespread cases occurring in many countries, and would benefit from increased attention and coordination." 

Prof Whitworth outlined that since the last meeting at the WHO in June, the outbreak has continued to expand. 

"Indicating that the control measures that have been put in place have not been sufficient to control the spread of infection," Prof Whitworth said. 

"It is to be hoped that the increased attention to this disease leads to more focus on control within  Africa, the natural home of this virus, where the number of cases has been increasing for the past 20 years." 

Prof Whitworth highlighted the growing concern among public health practitioners around the world, with it proving "very challenging" to prevent further transmission of the viral disease. 

However, he noted that the situation should not unduly worry the general public. 

"This is an infection that is transmitted by close contact - touching skin, coughing and sneezing, sharing utensils, bedding and so on," he said. 

"The vast majority of cases have been in gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men who have had multiple recent partners." 

The World Health Network welcomed the declaration too but wants the WHO to go further and label the virus a pandemic.

"It falls short of calling Monkeypox what it is, a global pandemic that has been spreading across several continents uncontrolled for months, and threatens lives.

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