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WHO to decide if monkeypox is ‘public health emergency of international concern’

The World Health Organization is convening its emergency committee next week to assess whether the growth in unusual monkeypox cases around the world represents a public health emergency of international concern.

“It’s now clear that there is an unusual situation,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing Tuesday.

He confirmed that the committee will convene to mull the classification — on Thursday, June 23 — because three key measures have now been met: The virus behaving unusually compared with in the past; more countries are now affected by these unusual cases; and, therefore, there’s a need for a more coordinated response.

So far this year, more than 1,600 confirmed cases and almost 1,500 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported to the WHO from 39 countries, including seven countries where monkeypox is endemic and 32 newly affected countries.

Elevating the status of these outbreaks would allow the WHO to coordinate research to fill the knowledge gaps regarding this virus, such as its transmission and animal reservoirs.

Advice from the emergency committee will also allow the WHO to be in a better position to control the situation, the WHO said.

In addition, the WHO is preparing a mechanism for the equitable distribution of vaccines that it has in stock. Tedros confirmed that the WHO is considering distribution of not only of Bavarian Nordic’s authorized monkeypox vaccine, but also older smallpox vaccines in WHO stockpiles.  

Regarding vaccines, the executive committee will be able to “shed light on any issues that can help us to respond even more in a more organized way,” Tedros said.

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