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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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ECONOMY

Increasing food prices put Spaniards at risk of poor nutrition

The skyrocketing prices of basic foods are putting Spaniards at risk of poor nutrition and increasing the use of food banks.

Increasing food prices put Spaniards at risk of poor nutrition

The effects of Spain’s rampant inflation and upwards price pressures on food are having an impact not only on Spaniards bank accounts, but their health too.

In Spain, supermarket prices have skyrocketed in recent months. The price of a melon, for example, recently topped €13, an increase so extreme that it highlights the nutritional quality of poorer Spaniards’ lives during times of economic hardship, and how they can be priced out of healthy, nutritious goods.

According to Spain’s national statistics body, the INE, in June of this year the prices of 46 household products were more expensive and above the overall Consumer Price Index (the rate used to calculate inflation, known as CPI) of 10.2 percent.

But in times of economic crisis, rising shopping basket prices can also effect the quality of nutrition people are able to access, and this is especially true in lower income families.

READ ALSO: Spain’s July inflation rate reaches new 38-year high

Figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) suggest that food prices have reached their highest level since 1990.

The Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) warned in July of a 15.2 percent price increase in the price of food shopping in a year. OCU figures also point to a 52.6 percent increase in olive oil prices and a rise of 12.4 percent for fruit and vegetables.

Spaniards across the country are being priced out of balanced, healthy diets and surviving on a deficit of fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil – staples of the much famed Mediterranean diet – and types of the food products that have increased in price.

The rising price of staple foods can end up causing consumers to look to “low quality, cheap and appetite-relied” products, Professor of Nutrition at the Complutense University of Madrid, Jesús Román, told the Spanish press last week.

READ MORE: Rising inflation in Spain: Six cost-cutting ways to fight it

Rising prices, he says, forces poorer income families to “opt for cheaper foods that are usually of lower quality, restricting those that are healthier.”

Unable to afford to eat healthily, many Spaniards are now forced to opt for cheaper and unhealthier alternatives. The consequences are clear, particularly on children who can’t access a nutritional diet during their developmental years.

In a Report on Childhood Obesity in Spain put together by supermarket chain Eroski, they concluded that childhood obesity is “a form of excessive malnutrition that, in many cases, also continues in adulthood.”

Research by the International University of Valencia (VIU) indicates that in the decade between 2011 and 2021 the percentage of overweight children in Spain increased to almost 40 percent. Among adolescents, that figure is 30 percent.

The Spanish government recently introduced the National Strategic Plan for the Reduction of Childhood Obesity with the aim of reducing obesity rates by 25 percent over the next decade.

Spain is one of the EU’s member states with the highest correlation between the risk of child poverty and obesity, and with rising food prices making a healthier, balanced diet more expensive and difficult to access, the combination of post-pandemic economic recovery and record inflationary pressures on food prices could push more into poverty.

Data published last May by the Spanish Federation of Food Banks (Fesbal) shows that in 2022, 20 percent more Spaniards will visit and rely on food banks than in 2021.

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