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UK Health Officials To Focus on Elimination of Mpox

Health officials in the UK said elimination of mpox would remain their number one focus after the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced it was no longer treating the recent disease outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern .

Latest data reported there had been 3742 confirmed and highly probable cases of mpox in the UK between 6 May 2022 and 30 April 2023, with the vast majority (3562) occurring in England.

Dr Katy Sinka, head of sexually transmitted infections at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: Last year UKHSA was the first in the world to detect the 2022 mpox outbreak and we welcome this news from the World Health Organisation that the incident has now been stepped down as a public health emergency of international concern, but we must not be complacent, and our focus remains on elimination."

The WHO declared mpox a global public health emergency in July 2022, as cases escalated, particularly in Europe. Previously declared emergencies for public health crises included the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Zika virus in Latin America, and H1N1 'swine flu' .

Some Ongoing Uncertainties

A WHO Emergency Committee meeting on 10 May noted a "significant decline" in the number of mpox cases reported worldwide and no changes in the severity and clinical manifestations of the disease. 

Members decided that despite some ongoing uncertainties, including methods of transmission and the effectiveness of countermeasures in some African countries, those long-term challenges "would be better addressed through sustained efforts in a transition towards a long-term strategy to manage the public health risks posed by mpox, rather than the emergency measures inherent to a public health emergency of international concern". The Committee emphasised the need for a strategy to boost surveillance, research, and control methods, as well as increased funding for countries where mpox occurred regularly.

Vigilance Needed

Members also urged "vigilance about any new, significant event or the emergence of new knowledge" that could require mpox being re-listed as a global public health emergency.

Dr Sinka of the UKHSA commented: "Elimination is more likely to be achieved if those who remain eligible continue to come forward for vaccination." A programme offering first doses of the mpox vaccine is due to end on 16 June, and eligibility for both doses would cease at the end of July, the Agency stated.

Earlier this month, the UKHSA announced a study into the immunological response to the mpox virus and mpox vaccination that scientists hope would broaden knowledge for preventing or containing future outbreaks.

Mpox became the official name for monkeypox in November last year when the World Health Organisation acted to prevent racist and stigmatising language being used online in connection with the disease.