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HEALTH

WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

The World Health Organisation on Saturday declared the monkeypox outbreak, which has affected nearly 16,000 people in 72 countries, to be a global health emergency -- the highest alarm it can sound.

Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he assessed the risk of monkeypox in the European region as high. Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

“I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference.

He said a committee of experts who met on Thursday was unable to reach a consensus, so it fell on him to decide whether to trigger the highest alert possible.

“WHO’s assessment is that the risk of monkeypox is moderate globally and in all regions, except in the European region where we assess the risk as high,” he added.

Monkeypox has affected over 15,800 people in 72 countries, according to a tally by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published on
July 20.

A surge in monkeypox infections has been reported since early May outside the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic.

On June 23, the WHO convened an emergency committee (EC) of experts to decide if monkeypox constitutes a so-called Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) — the UN health agency’s highest alert level.

But a majority advised Tedros that the situation, at that point, had not met the threshold.

The second meeting was called on Thursday with case numbers rising further, where Tedros said he was worried.

“I need your advice in assessing the immediate and mid-term public health implications,” Tedros told the meeting, which lasted more than six hours.

A US health expert sounded a grim warning late on Friday.

“Since the last #monkeypox EC just weeks ago, we’ve seen an exponential rise in cases. It’s inevitable that cases will dramatically rise in the coming weeks & months. That’s why @DrTedros must sound the global alarm,” Lawrence Gostin, the director of the WHO Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, said on Twitter.

“A failure to act will have grave consequences for global health.”

And, on Saturday, he called for “a global action plan with ample funding”, saying there was “no time to lose”.

Warning against discrimination
A viral infection resembling smallpox and first detected in humans in 1970, monkeypox is less dangerous and contagious than smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980.

Ninety-five percent of cases have been transmitted through sexual activity, according to a study of 528 people in 16 countries published in the New England Journal of Medicine — the largest research to date.

Overall, 98 percent of infected people were gay or bisexual men, and around a third were known to have visited sex-on-site venues, such as sex parties or saunas within the previous month.

“This transmission pattern represents both an opportunity to implement targeted public health interventions, and a challenge because in some countries, the communities affected face life-threatening discrimination,”
Tedros said earlier, citing concern that stigma and scapegoating could make the outbreak harder to track.

The European Union’s drug watchdog on Friday recommended for approval the use of Imvanex, a smallpox vaccine, to treat monkeypox.

Imvanex, developed by Danish drugmaker Bavarian Nordic, has been approved in the EU since 2013 for the prevention of smallpox.

It was also considered a potential vaccine for monkeypox because of the similarity between the monkeypox virus and the smallpox virus. 

The first symptoms of monkeypox are fever, headaches, muscle pain and back pain during the course of five days.

Rashes subsequently appear on the face, the palms of hands and soles of feet, followed by lesions, spots and finally scabs.

READ ALSO: WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Germany to see rise in tropical diseases due to climate change, warns expert

With climate change causing temperatures to rise in Germany, the head of the Robert Koch Institute has warned that this will lead to an increase in the spread of tropical diseases.

Germany to see rise in tropical diseases due to climate change, warns expert

The president of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Lothar Wieler, has said that he expects an increase in the spread of tropical diseases in Germany as a result of climate change.

He told the newspapers of the Funke Mediengruppe that climate change is leading to an expansion of the habitats of mosquitoes and ticks in Germany. “Many mosquito and tick species can transmit viral, bacterial and parasitic infectious agents,” he said.

The reproduction of viruses in mosquitoes is temperature-dependent, so with higher temperatures over longer periods of time, the probability of infections from mosquito bites increases.

READ ALSO: Ticks in Germany: How to avoid them and what to do if you get bitten

Wieler named Zika, dengue and the West Nile virus, as well as early summer meningoencephalitis (FSME) as examples of viruses that could soon be on the rise in Germany and said there was even a possibility that Malaria could appear in the country. 

Therefore, he said, it is crucial to raise awareness of such diseases in the medical profession in this country. “This is also an important concern for the RKI,” he said.

The FDP health politician and physician Andrew Ullmann also expects that, due to the climate-induced spread of tick and mosquito populations, diseases will increasingly appear in Europe and Germany “that were previously unknown in our climatic regions”.

READ ALSO: Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens ‘among new infections’

Ullmann called for a government response to the development. What is needed is “further research and innovation initiatives to better understand the effects of climate change on the spread of pathogens and to take effective measures,” he said.

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