GENEVA (Reuters) – The WHO director-general said he was “concerned” on Thursday about the rise in the number of smallpox cases at the opening of the Emergency Committee meeting, asking experts for advice before deciding to reach the highest level. organization alert.
“I need your advice to assess the immediate and long-term public health implications of the evolution of this event,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who “remains concerned” about the spread of the disease.
He is responsible for possibly declaring a public health emergency of international concern, the highest alert level of the health agency, based on the Committee’s recommendations.
The Doctor. Tedros asked the experts to “(he) provide the information and advice to support his decision”, having “fully realized” that this “involves the consideration of many factors, with the ultimate aim of protecting public health”.
The emergency committee meeting lasted less than six hours. But the experts’ possible conclusions were not released.
This Emergency Committee evaluated the epidemiological indicators, while the situation has worsened in recent weeks with more than 15,300 cases registered in 71 countries, according to the latest figures from the United States Health Authorities (CDC), the most up-to-date.
At a first meeting on June 23, most experts recommended that Dr. Tedros did not declare a public health emergency of international concern.
Detected in early May, the unusual increase in smallpox cases outside Central and West African countries where the virus is endemic has spread across the world, with Europe at its epicenter.
First detected in humans in 1970, monkeypox is less dangerous and contagious than its cousin smallpox, eradicated in 1980.
– Avoid stigma –
In most cases, the patients are gay men who are relatively young and live mainly in cities, according to the WHO.
A study published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, the largest on the subject and based on data from 16 different countries, confirms that the vast majority – 95% – of recent cases were transmitted during sexual contact and that 98% of those affected were gay or bisexual men.
“This mode of transmission represents both an opportunity to implement targeted public health interventions and a challenge, because in some countries, affected communities face life-threatening discrimination,” said Dr. Tedros.
“There is real concern that men who have sex with men could be stigmatized or blamed for the increase in cases, making it much more difficult to track and stop,” he warned.
It is therefore necessary to “work closely with affected communities in all regions” to adopt “the most effective approaches”, continued the Director-General, also regretting the lack of information from the regions of Central and South West Africa, where the virus is endemic.
According to the latest WHO figures published on Thursday, July 20, Europe remains the most affected region with nearly three quarters of cases, followed by the Americas (22.9%).
Spain is the most affected country in the world, with 3,125 cases, ahead of the United Kingdom (2,137), Germany (2,110), the United States (1,965), France (912), the Netherlands (656), Canada (604), Portugal (515), Brazil (384) and Italy (374).
In 77.2% of cases, patients are men aged between 18 and 44, and 98.1% of people who have given their sexual orientation are homosexual men.
– Rare vaccines –
The health agency works in parallel with member states and experts to advance research and development around the virus, while vaccines are rare.
The Danish company Bavarian Nordic, the only laboratory that produces an authorized smallpox vaccine, announced on Tuesday that it had received an order for 1.5 million doses, most of which will be delivered in 2023, from a European country named n did not filter, while the United States ordered 2.5 million additional doses.
In France, according to the General Directorate of Health, responding Thursday to franceinfo, 30,000 doses were withdrawn from vaccine stocks and more than two-thirds reached the field.