WHO Officially Declares Monkeypox a Global Health Emergency; Here’s What That Means


On 23 July, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the monkeypox outbreak to be a global health emergency.

Here’s what this means.

Wait, What’s Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a virus that causes fever, body aches, enlarged lymph nodes, and painful, fluid-filled blisters on the face, hands and feet. It is caused by infection with the monkeypox virus.

It is characterised as a self-limiting illness where patients recover within two to four weeks.

Only a small percentage of the infected fall seriously ill, or even die.

However, young children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals are particularly vulnerable to complications if they contract the illness.

Monkeypox a Global Health Emergency

According to WHO’s chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the global monkeypox outbreak represents a “public health emergency of international concern”.

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By labelling it a global health emergency, he has sounded the highest alarm the WHO can sound on outbreaks.

Tedros noted that when he met with the WHO Emergency Committee last month to assess the outbreak, there were 3,040 reported cases of monkeypox from 47 countries.

Since then, the outbreak has grown exponentially, with more than 16,000 reported cases from 75 countries. There has also been five reported deaths.

The committee of experts from WHO who met on 21 July was unable to agree on whether or not to trigger the highest alert. As chief of WHO, Tedros decided to do it anyways.


“We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly, through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little, and which meets the criteria in the International Health Regulations,” Tedros explained.

Criteria for a Global Health Emergency

The WHO has five elements to consider before deciding whether something is a global health emergency.

Firstly, they have to consider information provided by countries. Does it show that the virus has spread rapidly? Is it spreading to countries that have not seen the virus before?

Next, they have to assess whether the outbreak fits the three criteria under the International Health Regulations. These are: being an extraordinary event, a public health risk to other States, and a potential need for a coordinated international response.

The WHO also has to consider scientific principles, evidence and other information, which is currently very limited. They also have to assess the risk to human health, international spread, and the potential for interference with international traffic like the closing of borders.

Last but not least, the WHO has to consider the advice of the Emergency Committee, which did not reach an agreement. This means that the chief will have the power to make the final decision.

As of now, the WHO has three active global health emergencies: polio, COVID-19, and monkeypox.

Moderate to High Risk

The WHO said that the risk of monkeypox was moderate globally and in all regions. However, the European region has a higher risk of getting monkeypox.

Tedros also noted that while he has declared monkeypox to be a global health emergency, the outbreak is currently concentrated “concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners”.

This transmission pattern, while making it easier to implement targeted interventions, also presents a challenge. It is no surprise that in some countries, the communities affected encounter discrimination that could even be fatal.


With fears of stigma and scapegoating, people may choose to hide that they have monkeypox. This may make the outbreak even harder to track.

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WHO’s Recommendations

In order to fight the monkeypox outbreak, here’s what the WHO is recommending countries to do:

  • implement a coordinated response to stop transmission and protect vulnerable groups
  • engage and protect affected communities
  • heighten surveillance and public health measures to better detect and protect against monkeypox
  • strengthen clinical management, infection prevention and control in hospitals and clinics
  • speed up research into the use of vaccines or other tools

Hopefully, this outbreak can be contained quickly. Nobody wants another COVID-19, after all.

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