Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) meet Thursday to assess whether monkeypox constitutes an international emergency, their highest form of alert.

Only six such emergencies have been previously declared: COVID-19 (2020), the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2019), the Zika virus (2016), polio (2014), the Ebola outbreak in West Africa (2014) and the H1. virus that caused an influenza pandemic (2009).

The WHO does not declare pandemics, but began using the term to describe COVID-19 in March 2020. For many governments, that, rather than the previous WHO emergency declaration, was the moment they began taking action to try to contain the disease, which turned out to be too late to make a difference.

The WHO committee evaluated other outbreaks, such as yellow fever in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2016, but they ultimately did not meet the criteria: an unusual event that spreads internationally and needs cooperation between countries.

The statement is largely for attention-grabbing purposes and does not officially unlock funding or new measures, although it may give more weight to WHO advice and measures taken by countries. A committee of experts makes the recommendation, but the final decision rests with the Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Here are the details:


Recent estimates from the WHO suggest that around 15 million people may have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UN agency declared it an emergency in January 2020, about a month after the first reports of a new coronavirus from Wuhan, China.

An independent panel appointed by the WHO recently said the agency should have declared the new coronavirus outbreak in China an international emergency sooner.


The WHO emergency committee on Ebola declared the outbreak an international emergency in July 2019, after authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had already spent a year fighting the disease in an active conflict zone. There were 3,481 cases and 2,229 deaths.


In 2016, the WHO declared Zika a public health emergency of international concern. Zika had spread to more than 60 countries and territories since the outbreak was identified in Brazil in 2015.

By November 2016, when the WHO declared the end of the emergency, there were some 2,300 confirmed cases of babies born with microcephaly worldwide, the majority in Brazil.

Microcephaly is a condition caused by the virus and characterized by abnormally small heads that can lead to developmental problems.


In 2014, the WHO declared the resurgence of polio a public health emergency of international concern, and the label still applies to the disease that can cripple and kill children.

Pakistan’s failure to stop the spread of the disease triggered the global measures, which were also applied to Syria and Cameroon. Polio cases in Pakistan increased from 58 in 2012 to 93 in 2013, more than a fifth of the global total of 417.


An Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia between 2013 and 2016 killed at least 11,300 people, more than all other known Ebola outbreaks combined.

The spread of hemorrhagic fever also cost the economies of those three countries an estimated $53 billion, according to a 2018 study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.


The 2009 swine flu pandemic killed an estimated 284,500 people, about 15 times the number confirmed by laboratory tests at the time, according to an international group of scientists.

A 2012 study in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases said the number of victims could have been as high as 579,000 people. The original count, compiled by the WHO, put the number at 18,500.

(Reporting by Jennifer Rigby. Editing by Josephine Mason and Tomasz Janowski)

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