WHO Board Agrees Emergency Response Committee

31.05.2022 - The governing board of the World Health Organization (WHO) has agreed to form a new committee to help speed up the response to health emergencies such as Covid-19. The action addresses criticism of the agency’s perceived slowness to act during the early phase of the coronavirus before it became a full-blown global pandemic.

Under the resolution passed unanimously at the annual meeting of the organization’s 34-member leadership, the WHO will create a new Standing Committee on Health Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response that will analyze some of the shortcomings of the recent past.

The organization’s faster response faster to disease outbreaks is seen as crucial as a new potential threat arises in the shape of the monkey pox. The disease is endemic in Africa but has recently emerged in European populations that have not been in contact with that continent.

Up to now, the WHO – as well as other health authorities – has downplayed the threat of a monkeypox pandemic emerging from the outbreak that has now spread to 20 countries; however, the experience of the past two years has made many people wary.

Austria's Clemens Martin Auer introduced the resolution, which was backed by Canada, the EU, Japan, Moldova, Switzerland, the US, UK, and Vanuat. According the Reuters news agency he told the board that due to the WHO’s inaction, the world’s governing bodies missed the opportunity to have immediate consultations after the PHEIC of the coronavirus pandemic was declared.

The new standing committee will conduct oversight of the health organizations emergencies program “in ordinary times” to test its fitness to respond, making it an “indispensable part of the new global architecture on health emergency,” Auer said.

Some infectious disease experts are already calling for fast action to curb the spread of monkeypox. While this disease is not as transmissible or dangerous as Covid, the scientists believe there should be clearer guidance on how long an infected person should isolate, more explicit advice on how to protect people who are at risk and improved testing and contact tracing.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has said it may consider expanding the full approval of the vaccine produced by Danish biotech Bavarian Nordic to prevent monkeypox.  In contrast to North America, the shot is only authorized in Europe solely  to prevent smallpox, athough it has been used off label for immunization against monkeypox.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has declared monkeypox to be a public health urgency, but not an emergency. Danish biotech Bavarian Nordic is producing a freeze-dried version of the vaccine to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for the country’s Strategic National Stockpile.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist