June 12, 2024

White House responds to World Health Organization statement on monkeypox: ‘A coordinated, international response is essential’

President Joe Biden waves to family members on the Truman Balcony of the White House as he boards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House Friday
President Joe Biden waves to family members on the Truman Balcony of the White House as he boards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House Friday

The White House on Saturday evening reacted to the decision by the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the current monkeypox outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, saying that it is “a call to action for the world community to stop the spread of this virus.”

“A coordinated, international response is essential to stop the spread of monkeypox, protect communities at greatest risk of contracting the disease, and combat the current outbreak,” Raj Panjabi, Coordinator of the White House Pandemic Office, said in a statement.

Panjabi said that since the earliest days of the outbreak, “the Biden Administration has deployed a robust and comprehensive strategy to combat monkeypox here in the US, including dramatically scaling the procurement, distribution, and production of vaccines, expanding access to testing and treatments, and communicating with communities most at risk of contracting the virus.”

“But that is not enough,” he added, “As the Department of Health and Human Services has said, we must step up our work to aggressively combat this virus and protect communities in the United States that have been affected by monkeypox.”

The WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Grebreyesus said at a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on Saturday that the committee saddled with the responsibility to advise him on public health emergencies was unable to reach a consensus on whether monkeypox should be declared a global emergency but that he decided to make the call to bring the disease under control. There are now more than 16 thousand reported cases from 75 countries and territories, and five deaths.

Nine members of the committee voted against the declaration, while six voted for the declaration in what Dr. Ghebreyesus said was not a formal vote.

Monkeypox cases have mostly been identified among men having sex with men, although the transmission has also been seen among other people.

“A month ago, I convened the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations to assess whether the multi-country monkeypox outbreak represented a public health emergency of international concern. At that meeting, while differing views were expressed, the committee resolved by consensus that the outbreak did not represent a public health emergency of international concern. At the time, 3040 cases of monkeypox had been reported to WHO, from 47 countries,” Dr. Ghebreyesus said at the briefing.

“Since then, the outbreak has continued to grow, and there are now more than 16 thousand reported cases from 75 countries and territories, and five deaths.

“In light of the evolving outbreak, I reconvened the committee on Thursday of this week to review the latest data and advise me accordingly.

“I thank the committee for its careful consideration of the evidence, and issues. 

“On this occasion, the committee was unable to reach a consensus on whether the outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.

“The reasons the committee members gave for and against are laid out in the report we are publishing today.

“Under the International Health Regulations, I am required to consider five elements in deciding whether an outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern:

“First, the information provided by countries – which in this case shows that this virus has spread rapidly to many countries that have not seen it before;

“Second, the three criteria for declaring a public health emergency of international concern under the International Health Regulations, which have been met; 

“Third, the advice of the Emergency Committee, which has not reached consensus;

“Fourth, scientific principles, evidence and other relevant information – which are currently insufficient and leave us with many unknowns; 

“And fifth, the risk to human health, international spread, and the potential for interference with international traffic. 

“WHO’s assessment is that the risk of monkeypox is moderate globally and in all regions, except in the European region where we assess the risk as high. 

“There is also a clear risk of further international spread, although the risk of interference with international traffic remains low for the moment.

“So in short, 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.

“For all of these reasons, I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern,” he added. 

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