A World Health Organization committee of experts has met decide whether the monkeypox outbreak constitutes a global health emergency.

The outcome of the in-private meeting will be issued on Friday at the earliest, the WHO said.

A surge of monkeypox cases has been detected since May outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic. Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the WHO from 48 countries in total this year, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the start of the meeting.

The viral disease that causes flu-like symptoms and skin lesions is endemic in parts of Africa. The continent has registered just over 1,500 suspected cases since the start of 2022, of which 66 have been fatal, according to official data.

"When a disease affects developing countries, it is not an emergency. It only becomes an emergency when developed countries are affected," said Professor Emmanuel Nakoune, acting director of the Institut Pasteur in Bangui, the Central African Republic, who is running a trial of a monkeypox treatment.

However, Prof Nakounde said if the WHO declares a "public health emergency of international concern", - its highest level of alarm - it would still be an important step.

"If there is the political will to share equitably the means of response between developed and developing countries... each country will be able to benefit," he said.

Mr Tedros announced on 14 June that he would convene an emergency committee to assess whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) - the highest alarm that the UN health agency can sound.

Besides providing a PHEIC assessment, the committee members were set to give the WHO and its member states advice on how to better prevent the spread of the disease and manage their response.

Mr Tedros told the meeting that all countries needed to strengthen their capacities to prevent onward transmission of monkeypox, using surveillance, contact-tracing and isolating infected patients.


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"The outbreak in newly-affected countries continues to be primarily among men who have sex with men, and who have reported recent sex with new or multiple partners," he said, via video-link from the Commonwealth summit in the Rwandan capital Kigali.

"Person-to-person transmission is ongoing and is likely underestimated."

He said that in addition to the 3,200-plus confirmed cases, almost 1,500 suspected cases of monkeypox and around 70 suspected deaths have been reported in central Africa this year.

The emergency committee will provide Mr Tedros with a PHEIC recommendation, and an assessment of the risk to human health, the risk of international spread and the risk of interference with international traffic.

Mr Tedros will then make the final determination on whether a PHEIC should be declared, based on their advice.

There have been six PHEIC declarations since 2009, the last being for Covid-19 in 2020 - though the sluggish global response to the alarm bell still rankles at the WHO's Geneva headquarters.

The WHO has said it is working on a mechanism for sharing treatments and vaccines.

Most experts agree monkeypox technically meets the criteria for the WHO definition of an emergency. It is a sudden and unusual event spreading internationally, and requires cross-country co-operation.

But the WHO is in a precarious position after Covid, said Clare Wenham, a global health assistant professor at the London School of Economics.

If the WHO declares an emergency and countries do not act, it could undermine the agency's role in controlling global disease, she said.

"They're damned if they do, and damned if they don't," she added.