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Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO said the organisation’s committee had been unable to reach a consensus but still decided to call it an emergency.
“We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission about which we understand too little and which meets the criteria in the international health regulations,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.
“I know this has not been an easy or straightforward process and that there are divergent views among the members” of the committee.”
A global emergency is the WHO’s highest level of alert, but the designation does not necessarily mean a disease is particularly transmissible or lethal.
WHO’s emergencies chief, Dr Michael Ryan, said the director-general made the decision to put monkeypox in that category to ensure the gobal community takes the current outbreak seriously.
Health expert Dr Rosamund Lewis said this week said that 99 per cent of all monkeypox cases outside Africa are in men.
She added that 98 per cent of those involved men who have sex with other males.
Experts suspect the monkeypox outbreaks in Europe and North America were spread via sex at two raves in Belgium and Spain.
“Although I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern for the moment, this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.
“That means that this is an outbreak that can be stopped with the right strategies in the right groups.”
It comes after health officials said Britain’s monkeypox outbreak may have peaked.
About two thirds of the UK’s cases are in London. The vast majority of infections are among gay and bisexual men with the virus spreading predominantly via sexual contact.
“Based on the most recent case data, daily case growth has likely slowed,” the UKHSA said in its latest briefing.
Dr Meera Chand, of UKHSA, said: “Check for symptoms, including rashes and blisters. If you have them call 111 or a sexual health service.”