The World Health Network (WHN) has announced that they are declaring the current monkeypox outbreak a pandemic given that there are now 3,417 confirmed Monkeypox cases reported across 58 countries and the outbreak is rapidly expanding across multiple continents.
The outbreak will not stop without concerted global action. Even with death rates much lower than smallpox, unless actions are taken to stop the ongoing spread— actions that can be practically implemented— millions of people will die and many more will become blind and disabled, WHN said in a statement.
The essential purpose of declaring a pandemic is to achieve a concerted effort across multiple countries or over the world to prevent widespread harm. The definition of a pandemic is an infectious disease growing over a wide area, crossing international boundaries, and usually affecting a large number of people. The accelerating growth across multiple continents, and the need for a concerted action to stop it, meets both the criteria, and the essential purpose, for declaration of a pandemic. Concerted global action is needed, it said.
“There is no justification to wait for the monkeypox pandemic to grow further. The best time to act is now. By taking immediate action, we can control the outbreak with the least effort, and prevent consequences from becoming worse. The actions needed now only require clear public communication about symptoms, widely available testing, and contact tracing with very few quarantines. Any delay only makes the effort harder and the consequences more severe”, said Yaneer Bar-Yam, PhD, President of New England Complex System Institute and co-founder of WHN.
Until now most cases have been in adults, but any spread among children will lead to much more severe cases and more deaths. Infections of animals, especially rats and other rodents, but also pets, will make it much more difficult to stop. Passively waiting will lead to these harms without any compensating benefit.
The WHN announcement comes ahead of the The World Health Organization’s (WHO) meeting on June 23, 2022 to decide on their monkeypox outbreak designation.
The WHN urges all local public health authorities to apply the precautionary principle and use the available, necessary, and proven interventions to contain and stop the spread.
“The WHO needs to urgently declare its own Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)—the lessons of not declaring a PHEIC immediately in early January 2020 should be remembered as a history lesson of what acting late on an epidemic can mean for the world,” said Eric Feigl-Ding, PhD, Epidemiologist and Health Economist, and co-founder of WHN.
Monkeypox is a virus with the potential to cause significant harm to the public including acute painful illness that may require hospitalization, and may result in death, skin scarring, blindness, and other long-term disability. The most vulnerable to severe disease include children, pregnant people, and people who are immunocompromised.
The rate of identification of new cases has accelerated at an alarming rate in recent days. While the majority of identified early cases are predominantly among those who identify as gay, bisexual, or men who have sex with men, it is essential to recognize that if no action is taken, the disease will continue to spread both within this population and to members of all communities, with the potential to cause significant global disruption, the statement said.
“The first 18 months of the Covid pandemic showed us that stopping the virus is a cost effective strategy that aligns health and economic outcomes. Monkeypox is much easier to stop. This will provide a level of visibility, enabling businesses to project their societies and economies into the future”, said Cecile Phillips, Economist and President of, l’Institut économique Molinari.
Evidence supports many different routes of monkeypox transmission, including physical contact (touching an infected individual, especially the rash / postules), contact with contaminated clothing, bedding and objects, breathing airborne particles, and intimate contact/sex.
The WHN is urging immediate action by the WHO and national CDC organizations. Early action will have a greater impact with smaller interventions. If effective action is taken now, larger, more disruptive interventions will not be necessary. Health authorities and governments should learn from past mistakes in delaying response. Getting ahead of an outbreak is key to stopping it. Declaring it a pandemic now will help initiate a multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary approach to tackle it. The more we delay, the more we increase the chances of it getting out of hand.