The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Thursday that monkeypox, formerly known as mpox, is no longer classified as a global health emergency. This decision comes nearly a year after the disease began spreading worldwide. While case numbers have significantly declined, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus highlighted that monkeypox still poses a threat, especially in regions of Africa where it has been endemic.
This declaration follows the WHO’s recent announcement that Covid-19 no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). Tedros emphasized that although the emergencies for both monkeypox and Covid-19 are over, the risk of resurgent waves remains for both diseases, as they continue to circulate and cause fatalities.
While Central and West African countries have experienced local monkeypox outbreaks for decades, cases began appearing in Europe, North America, and other parts of the world in May of last year, primarily among men who have sex with men. The WHO declared monkeypox as a PHEIC in July. Since then, the number of infections, characterized by symptoms such as fever, muscular aches, and skin lesions, has consistently decreased.
During the global outbreak, over 87,000 cases and 140 deaths were reported across 111 countries. The United States, Brazil, Spain, France, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and the UK were the countries most affected by the disease.
Tedros noted a significant decrease in cases over the past three months, with almost 90% fewer cases reported compared to the previous three-month period. He attributed this progress to the lessons learned from managing HIV and close collaboration with the most affected communities. Tedros expressed gratitude that the feared stigma and discrimination against the affected communities did not materialize significantly.
While the global cases have predominantly occurred outside endemic countries, Tedros urged nations to remain vigilant by maintaining surveillance, ensuring access to tests and vaccines, and addressing the particular risk faced by individuals with untreated HIV.
Despite the progress, monkeypox continues to affect communities globally, especially in Africa, where transmission patterns are not yet fully understood. Rosamund Lewis, the WHO’s technical lead on monkeypox, emphasized that endemic countries in West and Central Africa have been dealing with the disease long before the recent outbreak and will continue to do so.
WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan expressed disappointment in the lack of international funding for combating monkeypox in African countries where it is endemic. He speculated that such disparities might stem from existing prejudices in the world.
With the removal of monkeypox and Covid-19 from the list, the WHO currently designates only one PHEIC, which is for poliovirus, declared in May 2014.