WHO Sounds Alarm for Monkeypox: 6 Times It Has Declared Emergencies in the Past

The WHO director-general declared monkeypox a 'Public Health Emergency of International Concern' on 23 July.

Health News
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WHO Sounds Alarm for Monkeypox: 6 Times It Has Declared Emergencies in the Past

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Saturday, 23 July, sounded the highest alarm for the monkeypox disease, declaring it a 'Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)'.

This is the seventh time a PHEIC has been declared by the WHO since 2009.

In a statement, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the outbreak had grown over time, with more than 16,000 reported cases from 75 countries and territories so far.

What is Monkeypox? 

According to the WHO, Monkeypox is a rare disease that mostly occurs in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa.

Though the disease is rare in humans, it can be fatal. As many as one-tenth of monkeypox patients may die. The risk of fatality is also higher in younger people.

Monkeypox virus is mostly transmitted to people from wild animals such as rodents and primates, but it is possible for the virus to spread from person to person.

The WHO's director general had said that monkeypox was most commonly shown to spread through sexual intercourse between men.

"Although I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern, for the moment this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners," Ghebreyesus said.

Symptoms of monkeypox are similar to that of smallpox, although it is less dangerous than the latter. These typically include:

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Headache

  • Bodyache

  • Rashes

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Painful blisters on the hands, feet and face (like chickenpox)

Symptoms of monkeypox can last anywhere from two weeks to a month.


When is a PHEIC Declared? 

The official term for a pandemic of international, global proportions isn't a Global Health Emergency. It's technically classified as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

In simple terms, a PHEIC or a global health emergency is "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 suggests 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.


6 Other Times the WHO Declared a PHEIC


Swine Flu, or H1N1, first broke out in the United States (US) in 2009. In June of the same year, it was declared a PHEIC by the WHO.

At that time, a total of 74 countries had reported cases of the infections, which was seen to jump from pigs to humans. Unlike typical seasonal flu patterns, the virus caused a high level of infections in the summer months in the northern hemisphere, and an even higher level during colder months.

The virus also led to illnesses and deaths not usually seen in influenza infections.

H1N1 continues to circulate as a seasonal virus and affects thousands every year. According to estimates by the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC), between 1,51,700 to 5,75,400 people worldwide have died from swine flu.

Common symptoms of the disease include:

  • Fever

  • Cough

  • Sore throat

  • Runny nose

  • Headache

  • Chills


Poliomyelitis (polio) is a disease that typically affects children below the age of five. The virus spreads from person-to-person through the faecal-oral route or, less commonly, by contaminated food or water.

While polio cases had decreased drastically since 1998, from around 3,50,000 cases in over 125 countries to 175 cases in 2019, the disease had been declared a PHEIC in May 2014 amid a spike.

In 2014, India had received a ‘Polio-free certification' from the WHO.

Symptoms of polio include:

  • Fever

  • Sore throat

  • Headache

  • Vomiting

  • Fatigue

  • Back and neck pain

  • Pain or stiffness in the arms or legs

  • Muscle weakness



The first case of Ebola had been reported in March 2014 in southeastern Guinea, marking the beginning of the West Africa Ebloa pandemic.

In August of the same year, it had been declared by the WHO as a PHEIC.

Over the duration of the epidemic, it had spread to several countries apart from West African nations, including Italy, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The PHEIC status was lifted in March 2016. However, the disease had a significant impact around the world, especially in West Africa.

As per the CDC, a total of 28,616 cases and 11,310 deaths had been reported in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

Thirty-six cases and 15 deaths were reported from countries apart from the aforementioned three.

Symptoms of the disease include:

  • Fever

  • Aches and pains

  • Weakness

  • Sore throat

  • Loss of appetite

  • Abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting

  • Unexplained haemorrhaging, bleeding, or bruising.


The Zika virus was declared a PHEIC in February 2016 amid an outbreak in the Americas and the Pacific region.

The first recorded case was reported from the Island of Yap (Federated States of Micronesia) in 2007.

Since then, 89 countries across the Americas, Africa, and other regions have reported cases of the virus.

The disease is mostly spread through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito.

While most people infected with the Zika virus do not experience symptoms, those who do may suffer from:

  • Fever

  • Rashes

  • Conjunctivitis

  • Muscle and joint pain

  • Headaches


Kivu Ebola

The Kivu Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was declared a PHEIC in July 2019.

Around 30 percent of the confirmed cases of the disease were in children.

As of November 2019, four months after the WHO raised the highest alarm, a total of 3,296 cases of Kivu Ebola had been reported with a high death rate of 67 percent.

Common symptoms of the disease include:

  • Body pain

  • Chills

  • Fatigue

  • Sweating

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Coughing up blood.


COVID-19, which still remains prevalent almost three years after its outbreak, was declared a PHEIC in January 2020.

A total of 57 crore cases have been reported worldwide, with the highest number of infections reported from the United States, followed by India.

228 countries and territories across the world have reported cases of this disease, that originated in China's Wuhan.

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever

  • Cough

  • Fatigue

  • Sore throat

  • Headache

  • Loss of taste or smell

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read and Breaking News at the Quint, browse for more from fit and health-news

Topics:  Ebola   H1N1   Zika 

Edited By :Saundarya Talwar
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