Facts: Health emergencies: The highest form of WHO concern

LONDON, June 23 (Reuters) – Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) are meeting on Thursday to assess whether monkeypox is an international emergency, its highest form of concern. Read more

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

The WHO does not declare pandemics, but began using the term to describe COVID-19 in March 2020. For many governments, this – instead of the earlier WHO declaration of a state of emergency – was the moment when they began to take real action to try to control the disease, which turned out to be too late to change things.

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Other outbreaks, such as the yellow fever in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2016, were assessed by the WHO committee but ultimately did not meet the criteria: an unusual event spreading internationally that needs cooperation between countries.

The Declaration largely serves to attract attention and does not trigger formal funding or new measures, although it may give more weight to WHO advice and action taken by the parties. An expert commission made the recommendation, but the final decision was made by Tedros CEO Adanom Gebrejesus.

Here are the details:


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

This was declared a state of emergency by the UN agency in January 2020, about a month after the first reports of a new coronavirus from Wuhan, China.

An independent committee appointed by the WHO recently said the agency should have declared a new coronavirus outbreak in China an international emergency earlier. Read more


The WHO Emergency Commission on Ebola declared the outbreak of an international emergency in July 2019, after the DRC authorities had already spent a year fighting the disease in an area of ​​active conflict. There were 3,481 cases and 2,229 deaths.


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

By November 2016, when the WHO declared a state of emergency, there were about 2,300 confirmed cases of babies born with microcephaly in the world, most in Brazil.

Microcephaly is a condition caused by a virus and marked by abnormally small heads, which can lead to developmental problems.


In 2014, the WHO declared the resurgence of polio as a public health emergency of international importance and the label is still applied to the disease, which can paralyze and kill children.

Pakistan’s failure to stop the spread of the disease has sparked global measures that have also been applied to Syria and Cameroon. Polio cases in Pakistan rose from 58 in 2012 to 93 in 2013, more than a fifth of the world’s 417.


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

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


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

A 2012 study in the Lancet Infectious Diseases found that up to 579,000 people may have been killed. The initial WHO census shows 18,500.

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Report by Jennifer Rigby Edited by Josephine Mason and Tomasz Janowski

Our standards: Thomson Reuters’ principles of trust.

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