On July 23, the World Health Organization declared that the monkeypox outbreak is a public-health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), defined as “an extraordinary event, which constitutes a public health risk to other States through international spread, and which potentially requires a coordinated international response.” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the emergency declaration despite the fact that a majority of a WHO emergency advisory committee voted against doing so. The question is why?
The likely answer: Covid-19. Like a general fighting the last war, the director-general does not want to be seen as repeating the mistakes and missteps of WHO’s pandemic response.
The WHO emergency declaration is largely symbolic since it does not guarantee any new funding for containment or actions by any country. It is likely a public-relations ploy since, as the committee members who voted against declaring the PHEIC noted, the overall global risk assessment was “unchanged” from a month earlier, the severity of disease is low, and cases are concentrated in one particular demographic and in a few countries “with no indications . . . of an exponential increase in the number of cases in any of those countries, and early signs of stabilization or declining trends observed in some countries.”