WHO declares monkeypox a public health emergency as cases surpass 16,000 worldwide: NPR

The World Health Organization has declared monkeypox a public health emergency of global concern. Here’s what that means and where the US stands in terms of treatments and vaccines.


Since May, the number of cases of monkeypox has risen to more than 16,000 worldwide. Over the weekend, the World Health Organization raised the outbreak to its highest level of alert – a public health emergency of international concern. NPR’s Ari Daniel is here with us to explain what that means. Hello, Ari.


SUMMERS: Ari, why did WHO make this decision now?

DANIEL: Well, while the overall case numbers may seem somewhat small – only 16,000 in 75 countries and territories – the WHO is concerned about how quickly monkeypox is spreading within the group that’s experiencing the vast majority of cases, and that’s men. who have sex with other men. The numbers are doubling every two to three weeks, with cases rising slightly faster in the US, which means things just aren’t slowing down. So while the WHO has been working with its members to respond to the outbreak, they say it’s time to do more. This is Michael Ryan, the executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.


MICHAEL RYAN: We must act now, and we must act together as we have done so far. But like any endeavor in human science and human health, there are times when you need to accelerate that effort.

DANIEL: And the time to accelerate, says the WHO, is now.

SUMMERS: So Ari, how does issuing a public health emergency of international concern work – how does that help in this case?

DANIEL: That’s a great question, Juana. Basically, this kind of statement brings everything up to speed. The hope is that countries will take faster action, encourage more international coordination and accelerate the distribution of vaccines and treatments. So this statement is just the first step. Boghuma Titanji is an infectious disease physician at Emory University.

BOGHUMA TITANJI: It’s not a magic wand. The WHO doesn’t make this designation, and then all of a sudden everything falls into place and, you know, it’s guaranteed that the outbreak will be contained. It must be supported by action, a coordinated global response that focuses on equality.

DANIEL: Equity, which means, according to Titanji, that people in all affected countries should have fair access to vaccines and other treatments. If wealthier countries maintain these medical interventions, she says, it will simply prolong the global trajectory of the virus.

SUMMERS: In terms of the US, how are things looking here right now?

DANIEL: Well, the cases are growing fast. The CDC says there are nearly 3,000 confirmed cases in the US. Testing has improved since some commercial labs began testing for monkeypox this month. And as for vaccines, the US government has sent over 300,000 doses and will push more to those countries where the most cases are found. The Department of Health and Human Services says millions more are scheduled for delivery by the middle of next year.

SUMMERS: And, Ari, tell us, what are you hearing about the treatments?

DANIEL: The CDC last week made it easier for doctors to prescribe TPOXX, Juana, the monkeypox treatment, by reducing some of the paperwork associated with it. However, advocates say access to vaccines and treatments remains difficult. I spoke to Alexandra Phelan. She is a global health lawyer at Georgetown University.

ALEXANDRA PHELAN: There are communities that are calling to not only provide, you know, access to vaccines and opening up better access to vaccines, but treatments and access to pain medication for people who have been infected with monkeypox, I think that it is an urgent priority.

SUMMERS: We’ll have to leave it there. This is NPR’s Ari Daniel. Thank you very much.

DANIEL: Thank you very much, Juana.

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