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The boss of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus decided this Saturday, July 23 to declare a “public health emergency of international concern” (USPPI) in the face of the outbreak of monkeypox cases.
Two days after a emergency committee meeting, the director general of the WHO has finally decided to trigger the highest level of alert of the health agency, supposed to lead to a whole series of actions of its member countries. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus nevertheless clarified during a press briefing that the risk of transmission of monkeypox in the world was relatively moderate apart from Europe where it is high.
Dr Tedros explained that the expert committee had failed to reach consensus, remaining divided on the need to trigger the highest level of alert. In the end, it is up to the general manager to decide. This is only the seventh time that the WHO has used this level of alert. During a first meeting on June 23, the majority of the experts of the Emergency Committee had recommended to Dr. Tedros not to pronounce the emergency of USPPI.
Detected in early May, the unusual upsurge in monkeypox cases outside central and west African countries where the virus is endemic has since spread across the globe, with Europe as its epicenter. If the health authorities have reported a drop in the rate of contagion, the number of cases is increasing rapidly. To date, it has reached nearly 17,000 people in 74 countries. First detected in humans in 1970, monkeypox is less dangerous and contagious than its cousin smallpox, eradicated in 1980.
A risk of stigma
In most cases, the patients are men who have sex with men, relatively young, and living mainly in cities, according to the WHO. A study published Thursday in the scientific journal New England Journal of Medicinethe largest on the subject and based on data from 16 different countries, confirms that the vast majority – 95% – of recent cases were transmitted through sexual contact and that 98% of those affected were gay men or bisexual.
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” This mode of transmission represents both an opportunity to implement targeted public health interventions, and a challenge, because in some countries, affected communities face discrimination that threatens their lives. “, had noted Thursday Dr. Tedros before the committee of experts. “ There is a real concern that men who have sex with men could be stigmatized or blamed for the spike in cases, making it much harder to trace and stop “, he had warned.
On Friday, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it had approved the use of a human smallpox vaccine to expand its use against the spread of monkeypox. This vaccine is in fact already used for this purpose in several countries, including France. The Imvanex vaccine, from Danish company Bavarian Nordic, has been approved in the EU since 2013 for the prevention of smallpox.
The WHO recommends vaccinating those most at risk as well as health workers likely to be confronted with the disease. In New York, thousands of people have already been vaccinated with the Jynneos vaccine.