WHO declares end to Mpox emergency
On 11 May 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) ended the global health emergency for mpox, 10 months after it was declared on 23 July 2022, as cases have fallen dramatically in Europe and the Americas. Caused by the monkeypox virus (MPXV), the painful and occasionally fatal disease is endemic in Africa, but a new strain surged in other locations last year, sparking WHO to invoke a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), the same type of worldwide alarm that was lifted last week for COVID-19.
The agency’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said at a press conference on 11 May 2023 in Geneva that WHO’s IHR Emergency Committee monitoring the mpox outbreak recommended ending the PHEIC at a meeting on 10 May 2023, and that he has accepted its advice.
WHO warns threat is NOT over
“That does not mean that the work is over,” Tedros said. “Mpox continues to pose significant public health challenges that need a robust, active, and sustainable response.”
From January 2022 through April 2023, more than 87,000 confirmed cases of mpox, including 140 deaths, were reported to WHO from 111 countries or territories. More than 30,000 cases have been reported in the United States. Globally, cases have been declining for months, especially as awareness has increased and a vaccine became more widely available.
Tedros said there were 90% fewer cases reported over the last three months compared to the previous 90 days.
Dr. Nicola Low, co-chair of the International Health Regulations emergency committee on mpox, said that despite the number of cases falling, transmission continues to circulate.
“So, there’s understandable uncertainty about the probability of a large resurgence of infection. There are also gaps in knowledge, which we acknowledge including about modes of transmission in some countries, about the effectiveness of vaccines, and continued lack of effective countermeasures, particularly in African countries where transmission and mpox cases occur regularly,” she said.
As a result, Low said, the committee’s move to recommend lifting the public health emergency came “after intense deliberations and discussions,” but the committee determined that the challenges were best solved through a long-term approach rather than through emergency measures.
Mpox is a less severe cousin of the now-eradicated smallpox virus. It is endemic to parts of West and Central Africa and has typically been contracted from a rodent or small mammal.
In the recent outbreak, gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men have made up the majority of cases, although anyone with close, personal contact with someone with mpox is at risk.
“While stigma has been a driving concern in managing this epidemic and continues to hamper access to care for mpox, the feared backlash against the most affected communities has largely not materialized. For that, we’re thankful,” Tedros said.
The virus can spread through contact with body fluids, sores or items such as clothing and bedding contaminated with the virus. It can also spread from person to person through respiratory droplets, typically in a close setting.
Tedros said that even though the global health emergencies of mpox and Covid-19 are now both over, the possibility of a resurgence lingers.
“Both viruses continue to circulate and both continue to kill,” he said.
- World Health Organization. WHO Director-General’s statement at the press conference following IHR Emergency Committee regarding the multi-country outbreak of monkeypox. https://www.who.int/news-room/speeches/item/who-director-general-s-statement-on-the-press-conference-following-IHR-emergency-committee-regarding-the-multi–country-outbreak-of-monkeypox–23-july-2022
- World Health Organization. Fifth Meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) Emergency Committee on the Multi-Country Outbreak of mpox (monkeypox). https://www.who.int/news/item/11-05-2023-fifth-meeting-of-the-international-health-regulations-(2005)-(ihr)-emergency-committee-on-the-multi-country-outbreak-of-monkeypox-(mpox)
- Liverpool, Layal. ‘The disease will be neglected’: scientists react to WHO ending mpox emergency. Nature (2023) doi: 10.1038/d41586-023-01581-1. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-01581-1
- Wadman, Meredith. WHO ends mpox emergency. Science (2023) doi:10.1126/science.adi6890. https://www.science.org/content/article/who-ends-mpox-emergency