Monkeypox declared a public health emergency for international concern

On July 23 2022, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, declared the recent outbreak of the Monkeypox virus a ‘public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC)’ via a virtual press conference (read the full transcript here). 

So, what does this mean? What is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)? 

According to the International Health Regulations (2005) a PHEIC is defined as,

“an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”

This definition implies a situation that is: 

  • serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected; 
  • carries implications for public health beyond the affected State’s national border; and 
  • may require immediate international action. 

Have there been other PHEICs? 

Yes, between 2009 and 2022, there have been six other PHEIC declarations by the WHO:  

  1. the 2009 H1N1 (or swine flu) pandemic 
  2. the 2014 polio declaration 
  3. the 2013–2016 outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa 
  4. the 2015–16 Zika virus epidemic 
  5. the 2018–20 Kivu Ebola epidemic 
  6. the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic 

However, it is important to know that PHEICs are not only limited to infectious diseases, they may also cover events caused by chemical agents or radioactive materials.    

Additionally, the PHEIC definition is temporary and is reviewed every three months.  

Monkeypox Fact Box

Monkeypox is a viral zoonotic infection, meaning that it can spread from animals to humans. It can also spread from person to person through close contact with someone who has a monkeypox rash, including through face-to-face, skin-to-skin, mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-skin contact, including sexual contact.

While some people have mild symptoms of monkeypox, others may develop more serious symptoms and need care in a health facility. Those at higher risk for severe disease or complications include children and people who are pregnant or immunocompromised. 

The most common symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, low energy, and swollen lymph nodes. This is followed or accompanied by the development of a rash which can last for two to three weeks. The rash can be found on the face, palms of the hands, soles of the feet, eyes, mouth, throat, groin, and genital and/or anal regions of the body. 

Anyone who has symptoms that could be monkeypox or who has been in contact with someone who has monkeypox should call or visit a health care provider and seek their advice. 

We are still learning about how long people with monkeypox are infectious, but generally, they are considered infectious until all of their lesions have crusted over, the scabs have fallen off and a new layer of skin has formed underneath. 

Click here for the most up-to-date information and FAQs.

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