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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Austria approves changes to the mandatory ‘family passport’ Mutter-Kind-Pass

Pregnant people in Austria receive a 'Mutter-Kind-Pass', a document that will store all the medical information about their pregnancy and their child and is mandatory to receive certain social benefits. Here's what's changing.

Austria approves changes to the mandatory 'family passport' Mutter-Kind-Pass

The Council of Ministers has approved the reform of the mother-child passport (Mutter-Kind-Pass), which was initially introduced in 1974 in Austria.

Starting in January 2024, the preventive care program will be renamed the Eltern-Kind-Pass (Parent-Child Pass). Over the course of the next few years, until 2026, the range of services provided will be expanded to include additional offerings for pregnant women and newborns. Furthermore, a digital version of the pass will be introduced.

The Parents-Child Pass Act is expected to be passed by the National Council in June, the Health Ministry stated in a press release.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about parental leave in Austria

New benefits for families

The reformed parent-child pass will offer new benefits, such as an early health consultation during pregnancy, an optional second consultation with a midwife before childbirth, and parenting advice. Additional screenings for newborns, including hearing tests and ultrasounds, as well as additional laboratory tests and nutrition and health counselling for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and new parents, will also be available.

Johannes Rauch, the Health Minister from the Green Party, praised the parent-child pass as a successful model. He emphasised that the screening examinations would aid in the early detection and timely treatment of medically relevant abnormalities, thus preventing numerous deaths. Furthermore, Rauch highlighted the significance of these benefits for those without access to such examinations otherwise.

Susanne Raab, the Family Minister from the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), highlighted the addition of a new parenting advice service as part of the preventive measures. “We can offer parents and especially women information for decisions when it comes to sharing as partners and increase the participation of fathers”, she said.

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The digitisation of the screening program will significantly improve the documentation of examination results. This will enable the seamless transfer of findings between attending physicians and midwives through the Electronic Health Record (ELGA), according to the Ministry.

Overall, the government said these reforms aim to enhance the parent-child pass program, offering expanded services, improved documentation, and increased access to information and support for parents and their children.

What is the Mutter-Kind-Pass?

The Mutter-Kind-Pass is a small, yellow passport-style document that plays a vital role in providing and monitoring healthcare for pregnant women and young children in Austria.

Once a doctor confirms a pregnancy, the Mutter-Kind-Pass is issued to the expectant mother. It serves as a comprehensive record of medical examinations throughout the pregnancy and includes health check-ups for the child up to the age of five.

READ ALSO: Ten things you will notice as a parent with a child at school in Austria

The primary purpose of the Mutter-Kind-Pass is to ensure that pregnant women and children receive the necessary medical care they require. Furthermore, it is an essential document for receiving maternity pay in Austria, as the expected delivery date is recorded within it.

Furthermore, presenting proof of examinations recorded in the Mutter-Kind-Pass is essential for receiving the full entitlement to childcare allowance (Kinderbetreuungsgeld). Therefore, carrying the pass to all maternity-related appointments is recommended, as advised by the Österreichische Gesundheitskasse.