The WHO has warned that the outbreak could spread to other countries (Photo: Getty/EPA/AP)

The monkeypox outbreak has spread to more than 70 countries and is now a “global emergency,” according to the World Health Organization.

The WHO has called it an “emergency event” that could spread to other countries and requires a global response.

The state of emergency declaration mainly serves as a plea to bring more global resources and attention to the outbreak.

Similar announcements have had mixed effects in the past, given that the UN’s health agency is virtually powerless to compel countries to act.

Monkeypox has existed in parts of central and western Africa for decades, but it has not been known to cause large outbreaks outside the continent or spread widely among humans.

But in May, the authorities discovered dozens of epidemics in Europe, North America and other places – UK cases now exceed 2,000where those most at risk are now eligible for the vaccine.

More than 2,500 cases have been reported in the United States and the country the first two cases among children have been confirmed.

A dose of the monkeypox vaccine is being administered in London today (Photo: Getty Images)

More than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 74 countries since around May, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A WHO expert committee said last month that the global monkeypox outbreak was not yet an international emergency, but the group met this week to reassess the situation.

It has previously declared emergencies for public health crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the 2016 Zika virus, and the ongoing polio eradication effort.

To date, deaths from monkeypox have been reported only in Africa, where a more dangerous version of the virus is circulating, mainly in Nigeria and the Congo.

On the continent, monkeypox mainly spreads to humans from infected wild animals, such as rodents, in limited outbreaks that usually do not cross borders.

However, in Europe, North America and other countries, monkeypox is spreading among people without contact with the animals or recent travel to Africa.

The WHO’s chief expert on monkeypox, Dr Rosamund Lewis, said this week that 99% of all cases of monkeypox outside Africa were among men, and that 98% of those involved men who have sex with men.

Experts suspect that outbreaks of monkeypox in Europe and North America were spread through sex at two raves in Belgium and Spain.

Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said it was surprising that the WHO had not yet declared monkeypox a global emergency, explaining that the conditions may have been met weeks ago.

Some experts question whether such a declaration will help, arguing that the disease is not serious enough to warrant attention.

An example of a monkeypox rash (Image: UKHSA)

They added that rich countries fighting monkeypox already have the means to do so; most people recover without medical attention, although the lesions can be painful.

“I think it would be better to be proactive and overreact to a problem rather than waiting to react when it’s too late,” Mr Head said.

He added that the WHO’s emergency declaration could help donors such as the World Bank allocate funds to stop outbreaks both in the West and in Africa, where animals are the likely natural reservoir of monkeypox.

In the US, some experts speculate that monkeypox could become an established sexually transmitted disease like gonorrhea, herpes and HIV.

“The bottom line is that we’ve seen a shift in the epidemiology of monkeypox, where unexpected transmission is now widespread,” said Dr. Albert Ko, a professor of public health and epidemiology at Yale University.

“There are some genetic mutations in the virus that indicate why this might be happening, but we need a globally coordinated response to get it under control,” he said.

Dr Koh called for an immediate and rapid expansion of testing, saying that, as in the early days of Covid-19, there were significant gaps in surveillance.

He said: “The cases we are seeing are just the tip of the iceberg.” The opportunity to quickly stop the outbreaks in Europe and the United States is probably closed for us.

During a visit to an army base, Boris throws a grenade and tries a rocket launcher

During a visit to an army base, Boris throws a grenade and tries a rocket launcher

“But it’s not too late to stop monkeypox from causing massive damage to poor countries that don’t have the resources to fight it.”

Dr. Placide Mbala, a virologist who heads the global health division of Congo’s National Biomedical Research Institute, expressed hope that any global effort to end monkeypox would be fair.

Although countries including the UK, Canada, Germany and the US have ordered millions of doses of the vaccine, none has gone to Africa.

“The solution must be global,” Mbala said, adding that any vaccines sent to Africa would be used for those most at risk, such as hunters in rural areas.

He added: “Vaccination in the West may help stop the outbreak there, but there will still be cases in Africa.

“Until the problem is solved here, the risk to the rest of the world will remain.”

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WHO declares monkeypox outbreak a ‘global health emergency’

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