The World Health Organization (WHO) will convene an emergency committee on June 23 to assess whether the monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.

That is the highest level of warning issued by the UN health agency, which currently applies only to the COVID-19 pandemic and polio.

Speaking at the COVID-19 media briefing, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on June 14 that it was time to consider stepping up the response because the virus is behaving unusually, more countries are affected and there is a need for international coordination.

So far this year, more than 1,600 confirmed cases and almost 1,500 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported to WHO from 39 countries – including seven countries where monkeypox has been detected for years, and 32 newly-affected countries, he noted. 

“WHO’s goal is to support countries to contain transmission and stop the outbreak with tried-and-tested public health tools including surveillance, contact-tracing and isolation of infected patients,” said WHO head.  “It’s also essential to increase awareness of risks and actions to reduce onward transmission for the most at-risk groups, including men who have sex with men and their close contacts.”

According to him, WHO does not recommend mass vaccination against monkeypox.

“WHO is also working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes.  We will make announcements about the new names as soon as possible,” said he.  “The global outbreak of monkeypox is clearly unusual and concerning.  It’s for that reason that I have decided to convene the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations next week, to assess whether this outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.”

Monkeypox is reportedly endemic in parts of Africa but there have been more cases both in those countries and the rest of the world in recent months.  The virus causes flu-like symptoms and skin lesions, and spreads through close contact.  It is thought to be fatal in around three to six per cent of cases, according to WHO.

The Ministry of Health and Social Protection of the Population of Tajikistan (MoHSPP) says no cases of monkeypox virus have been reported in the country so far.