FILE PHOTO: Monkeypox vaccination clinic run by CIUSSS public health authorities in Montreal

Facts – Health emergencies: WHO’s highest form of alert

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

The World Health Organization does not declare epidemics, but it started using this term to describe COVID-19 in March 2020. WHO – It started taking concrete measures to try to contain the disease, which proved too late to make a difference.

Other outbreaks, such as yellow fever in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2016, were evaluated by a WHO panel but ultimately failed to meet the criteria: an unusual event that spreads internationally and requires cooperation between countries.

The statement is primarily to attract attention and does not formally release funding or further action, although it may give more weight to WHO advice and country action. A panel of experts makes the recommendation, but the final decision rests with Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

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According to recent WHO estimates, about 15 million people may have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Nations agency declared a state of emergency in January 2020, about a month after the first reports of the novel coronavirus from Wuhan, China.

An independent group appointed by the World Health Organization recently said the agency should have declared the novel coronavirus outbreak in China an international emergency sooner.

Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The World Health Organization’s Ebola Emergency Committee declared the outbreak an international emergency in July 2019, after DRC authorities had already spent a year fighting the disease in an active conflict zone. There have been 3,481 cases and 2,229 deaths.


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

By November 2016, when the World Health Organization declared an end to the emergency, about 2,300 confirmed cases of children born with microcephaly had been reported worldwide, most of them in Brazil.

Microcephaly is a virus-induced condition characterized by an abnormally small head that can lead to developmental problems.


In 2014, the World Health Organization declared the re-emergence of polio a public health emergency of international concern, and the label still applies to this disease that can cripple and kill children.

Pakistan’s inability to stop the spread of the disease triggered these global measures, which have also been applied to Syria and Cameroon. The number of polio cases in Pakistan increased from 58 in 2012 to 93 in 2013, more than a fifth of the global total of 417.

Ebola in West Africa

Ebola outbreaks 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 has also cost the economies of these three countries an estimated $53 billion, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

swine flu

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

According to a study published in 2012 in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, the balance sheet can go up to 579,000 people. The original census, compiled by the World Health Organization, put the number at 18,500.

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