Monkeypox remains an international public health emergency, the World Health Organization said, even as cases continue to drop globally.
The virus remains a “public health emergency of international concern,” requiring ongoing transmission surveillance and outbreak response at the global level, the WHO’s Emergency Committee determined in a report presented Tuesday.
The committee agreed that there has been progress in lowering cases but that transmission remains high in certain regions, and there’s “an emerging potential for greater health impact in vulnerable populations.”
“The number of reported cases has dropped for eight straight weeks. This is very encouraging,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the committee late last month ahead of the report’s release. “But progress in the Americas is less certain, and this region accounted for almost 90% of cases reported last week. Several countries are still entering the peak phase of the outbreak, and there is likely to be under reporting in others.”
Like many other regions in the world, cases in the U.S. have been gradually dropping since peaking in August — from a seven-day average of over 400 cases a day to 30.
This drop in cases has been attributed to an abundance of vaccine supplies and educational outreach changing sexual behavior among those who are at higher risk of infection. The outbreak has been largely contained among sexually active men who have sex with multiple male partners, according to public health officials.
A recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University and Johns Hopkins University found that about half of gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men have reduced their number of sex partners, one-time sexual encounters, and use of dating apps because of the monkeypox outbreak.
In addition to changing sexual behaviors, more than a million people have received the vaccine in the U.S. The vast majority of these individuals have been men, according to the CDC.
The U.S. is also well stocked in vaccine supplies, with it expected to have seven million vials of the primary Jynneos vaccine by mid-2023, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Though monkeypox cases are overall dropping, the CDC has warned that they are rising among minorities in the U.S., primarily those who are Black. Just last month, roughly 44% of monkeypox cases reported in the U.S. were among people who identified as Black.
Health officials have pointed to disproportional vaccine rates ― with white men getting vaccinated at higher rates ― for this rise.
“It is critical that education, vaccinations, testing and treatment are equally accessible to all populations, but especially those most affected … by this outbreak,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing last month.