Next week, the World Health Organization will conduct an emergency conference to decide whether the global monkeypox outbreak should be classified as an international health emergency.
The UN agency is also attempting to modify the disease's name, which had previously been limited to western and central Africa until over 1,000 cases were discovered in dozens of nations around the world in the last two months.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the emergency committee will convene next Thursday to debate the designation, which is the highest level of alert that the UN organization can issue.
After more than 30 experts wrote last week that there was a "urgent need for a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatizing nomenclature for monkeypox," the name change was announced.
"Continued reference to, and nomenclature of, this virus as African is not only erroneous, but also discriminatory and stigmatizing in the context of the current worldwide outbreak," they said.
Although monkeypox was first detected in macaques, many instances are thought to be spread by rodents to people.
Monkeypox typically begins with a high fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a blistery chickenpox-like rash. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted last week that current cases do not always have flu-like symptoms and that rashes are sometimes localized to specific locations.
Dr. Tedros stated that the WHO has received 1,600 confirmed monkeypox cases and 1500 suspected cases this year from 39 countries, 32 of which have recently been impacted by the virus. While 72 deaths have been documented in areas where monkeypox is already endemic, none have been reported in newly affected nations.
On June 23, the emergency committee will convene to debate the designation, which is the highest level of alert that the UN agency can issue.
"The WHO is also engaging with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of the monkeypox virus... and the disease it causes," Tedros added.
"As soon as feasible, we will make announcements concerning the new names." The news comes after more than 30 experts wrote last week that "a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatizing nomenclature for monkeypox is urgently needed."
“In the context of the current global outbreak, continued reference to, and nomenclature of this virus being African is not only inaccurate but is also discriminatory and stigmatising,” they wrote.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted last week that current cases do not always have flu-like symptoms and that rashes are sometimes localized to specific locations.
According to Tedros, the WHO has received reports of 1,600 confirmed monkeypox cases and 1,500 suspected cases from 39 countries this year, 32 of which have recently been afflicted by the virus.
"However, WHO is investigating reports from Brazil of a monkeypox-related death," he added.
No mass vaccination
The WHO wants to recommend "tried-and-true public health techniques like surveillance, contact tracing, and isolation of infected people" to combat the global spread.
After the European Union announced Tuesday that it had purchased nearly 110,000 vaccine doses, he said the WHO does not promote widespread vaccination against monkeypox.
"While smallpox immunizations are predicted to provide some protection against monkeypox," Tedros told journalists, "there is minimal clinical data and restricted supplies."
"Any choice to take vaccines should be decided jointly by individuals who may be at risk and their health care provider, on a case-by-case basis, based on an assessment of risks and benefits."
Rosamund Lewis, WHO’s technical lead for monkeypox, told journalists that there are a few smallpox vaccines that may be protective against monkeypox.
She called on countries that are vaccinating to share their research and pointed to a set of interim guidance documents released by the WHO.
Tedros also emphasized that vaccines must be “available equitably wherever needed,” adding that the WHO is working with its member states “to develop a mechanism for fair access to vaccines and treatments”.