AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) today called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) after the global health institution failed to classify the infectious disease outbreak as a global health emergency at a meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) Emergency Committee on June 25.
At the meeting, WHO reported that since May this year, 3,040 cases have been reported to WHO from 47 countries, mostly from the WHO European Region, with many initial cases having no epidemiological links to areas that have historically reported the virus, suggesting that undetected transmission might have been ongoing for some time in many countries. Most confirmed cases are among males and occur among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM).
“This sounds like history repeated with a communicable disease affecting a population that is not a priority for WHO Member States’ general population – particularly Members that deem those affected as ‘undesirable’ or ‘other,’” said Dr. Jorge Saavedra, Executive Director of the AHF Global Public Health Institute at the University of Miami and former General Director of the National AIDS Program of Mexico (CENSIDA). “The HIV epidemic was also not declared an international emergency until the world learned it affected heterosexuals, women, and children.”
According to WHO, the Committee was also “concerned about the potential for exacerbation of the stigmatization and infringement of human rights, including the rights to privacy, non-discrimination, physical and mental health, of affected population groups, which would further impede response efforts.”
Dr. Saavedra, currently a member of the Consultative Council of the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico and two international and regional gay networks (MPACT and GayLatino), added, “Stigma, discrimination, and human rights violations are not combated by hiding or minimizing public health evidence. Social and institutional attitudes towards people with different sexual orientations are combated by generating and implementing national laws to protect affected people, not by denying an epidemiological reality. A decision not to declare an emergency because it mostly affects MSM is akin to homophobia.”
Monkeypox, a viral illness that until recently was rarely seen outside Africa, has been detected in more than 4,000 people in approximately 60 countries where the virus does not normally occur, according to Global.Health.
“When international resources flow to address a disease, and when investment for research on that specific disease increases, it raises public awareness of the problem – a declaration of a public health emergency of international concern is necessary for this public awareness to happen,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “We urge the WHO to reconvene the Committee and implore it to reconsider its decision so people globally will start taking precautionary measures to protect themselves against monkeypox. This includes governments actively providing public health advice to the most at-risk populations. Otherwise, monkeypox won’t be considered an emergency. This is a prime example of ‘it’s better safe than so sorry.’”