The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that the global outbreak of mpox, also known as monkeypox, is no longer classified as an international emergency. The disease had spread to over 100 countries last year, causing concern among experts. However, a significant decline in cases in recent months has led to this decision.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the initial declaration of mpox as an extraordinary situation and a global crisis, despite the recommendation of the organization’s expert committee. The unique mode of transmission through sexual contact, particularly among gay and bisexual men, raised significant concerns. This outbreak became the largest mpox epidemic ever recorded.
During a recent media briefing, Tedros stated that the recent substantial decrease in cases, with a 90% reduction in the past three months, is no longer a cause for acute concern. He attributed this progress to the valuable lessons learned from combating HIV and the close collaboration with the most affected communities. Tedros expressed satisfaction in declaring that mpox is no longer a global health emergency, noting that the feared backlash against these communities has largely been avoided.
While the mpox virus has been present in parts of central and west Africa for decades, primarily transmitted from animals to humans, it unexpectedly caused major outbreaks in Europe, North America, and other regions last year, deviating from previous containment patterns. Common symptoms include rash, fever, headache, muscle pain, and swollen lymph nodes. The disease spreads through close physical contact or contact with contaminated items.
Scientists discovered that the unprecedented outbreak was linked to sexual activity among gay and bisexual men at raves in Spain and Belgium. This marked a significant departure from the typical spread of mpox in Africa. Following the declaration of a global emergency, the epidemics in Europe and North America subsided, primarily affecting men who have sex with men. Quick administration of mpox vaccines in wealthier countries contributed to the relatively low number of severe cases.
Despite the decrease in cases in Europe and North America, there has been a recent spike in mpox cases globally, particularly in the Americas and the Western Pacific. The United States has reported the highest number of cases, exceeding 30,000. The disease remains a concern in central and west Africa, particularly in Congo, where new infections have increased by 7% in the last two weeks. The routes of transmission are still not well understood.
Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO emergencies chief, expressed criticism over the lack of financial support from donors to contain the epidemic. He highlighted that WHO had financed the response efforts itself, while acknowledging that some countries affected by mpox may have received direct support from donors. Africa, in particular, faced delays in receiving vaccine shipments until December.
The global mpox outbreak is no longer considered an international emergency according to WHO. While cases have significantly declined, vigilance is still necessary, especially in regions where the disease remains prevalent. Efforts to understand transmission routes and secure funding for containment continue to be priorities.