Factbox: Health emergencies: WHO’s highest form of alert

LONDON, June 23 (Reuters) – World Health Organization (WHO) experts meet Thursday to assess whether monkeypox is an international emergency, its highest form of alert. Read more

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

WHO does not declare pandemics, but began using the term to describe COVID-19 in March 2020. For many governments, that, rather than the previous WHO emergency declaration, was the time they began to take concrete actions to try to contain the disease, which proved too late to make a difference.

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Other outbreaks, such as yellow fever in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016, were evaluated by the WHO committee but ultimately failed to meet the criteria – an unusual event that has spread internationally that needs cooperation transnational.

The declaration largely serves to attract attention and does not officially unlock funding or new measures, although it may give more weight to WHO advice and actions taken by countries. A committee of experts makes the recommendation, but the final decision rests with the director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Here are the details:


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

It was declared an emergency by the United Nations agency in January 2020, about a month after the first reports of a new coronavirus from Wuhan, China.

An independent panel appointed by WHO recently said the agency should have declared China’s new coronavirus outbreak an international emergency first. Read more


The WHO Ebola Emergency Committee declared the outbreak an international emergency in July 2019, after authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had already spent a year fighting the disease in an active conflict zone. There were 3,481 cases and 2,229 deaths.


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

As of November 2016, when the WHO declared the end of the emergency, there were approximately 2,300 confirmed cases worldwide of babies born with microcephaly, most of them in Brazil.

Microcephaly is a condition caused by the virus and characterized by abnormally small heads that can lead to developmental problems.


In 2014, WHO declared the resurgence of polio a public health emergency of international concern, and the label still applies to the disease that can paralyze and kill children.

Pakistan’s inability to stem the spread of the disease triggered global measures, which also applied to Syria and Cameroon. Polio cases in Pakistan went from 58 in 2012 to 93 in 2013, more than a fifth of the global total of 417.


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

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


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

A 2012 study in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases said the toll may have been 579,000. The original count, compiled by WHO, put the number at 18,500.

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Reporting by Jennifer Rigby Editing by Josephine Mason and Tomasz Janowski

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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