Science & Health

US Declares Monkeypox Outbreak a Public Health Emergency

The United States has declared monkeypox a public health emergency, the health secretary said Thursday, a move expected to free up additional funding and tools to fight the disease. 

The declaration came as the tally of cases crossed 6,600 in the United States on Wednesday, almost all of them among men who have sex with men. 

“We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said at a briefing. 

The declaration will also help improve the availability of monkeypox data, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said, speaking alongside Becerra. 

The World Health Organization also has designated monkeypox a “public health emergency of international concern,” its highest alert level. The WHO declaration last month was designed to trigger a coordinated international response and could unlock funding to collaborate on vaccines and treatments. 

Biden earlier this month appointed two top federal officials to coordinate his administration’s response to monkeypox, following declarations of emergencies by California, Illinois and New York. 

First identified in monkeys in 1958, the disease has mild symptoms including fever, aches and pus-filled skin lesions, and people tend to recover from it within two to four weeks, according to the WHO. It spreads through close physical contact and is rarely fatal. 

Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, told Reuters on Thursday that it was critical to engage leaders from the gay community as part of efforts to rein in the outbreak, but cautioned against stigmatizing the disease and its victims. 

“Engagement of the community has always proven to be successful,” Fauci said. 

Unlike when COVID-19 emerged, there are vaccines and treatments available for monkeypox, which was first documented in Africa in the 1970s. 

The U.S. government had distributed 156,000 monkeypox vaccine doses nationwide through mid-July. It has ordered an additional 2.5 million doses of Bavarian Nordic’s vaccine. 

The first U.S. case of monkeypox was confirmed in Massachusetts in May, followed by another case in California five days later. 

Science & Health

A Peek at NASA’s Upcoming Moon Mission

NASA discusses its upcoming test flight to the moon. Plus, another look deep into the history of our universe, and we remember a beloved fictional pioneer in spaceflight. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us “The Week in Space.”

Science & Health

Biden Seeks to Federally Protect Abortion as States Vote on Issue 

President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order that the White House said would protect access to abortion care, part of the continuing fallout from a June Supreme Court reversal of its landmark 1973 ruling establishing a right to abortion.

With each of the 50 states now free to write abortion laws as it sees fit, an early test came Tuesday when voters in the Midwestern state of Kansas voted decisively to keep that state’s right to abortion. But several states now outlaw the practice, sometimes even in the case of rape or incest.

“This is just extreme,” Biden said before signing the order, which aims to help people seeking abortions travel to a state where it remains legal. “You know, even the life of the mother is in question in some case — in some states.

“Republicans in Congress and their extreme MAGA ideology are determined to go even further, talking about nationwide bans that would outlaw abortion in every state, under every circumstance, going after the broader right to privacy as well. But as I said before, this fight is not over. And we saw that last night in Kansas.”

This was the second abortion-related executive order that Biden had signed since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision. The first executive order, last month, aimed to guarantee access to emergency contraception and abortion medication.

Critics said these White House actions were too vague, and too slow.

“What we’re seeing is the federal government figuring out how they can support abortion patients without violating federal law,” said Elizabeth Nash, state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that supports abortion rights.

“And so that’s why some of this is so piecemeal,” she said. “And we’re seeing what agencies are going to come up with. And frankly, this is the sort of announcement that we really needed to hear right when Dobbs came down. And so I’m hoping that these agencies can be kick-started into action so that they can catch up. Because we are seeing states ban abortion.”

On Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration is working as fast as it can, but “there’s steps and processes that we have to take in order to take actions as big as these.

“But look, there has been an urgency from this president from day one when — when the Supreme Court made this extreme decision to take away a constitutional right,” she said.

Thirteen states immediately banned abortion right after the Supreme Court ruling. In the coming months, four states — California, Kentucky, Michigan and Vermont — will vote on abortion, as Kansas did.

Kansans on Tuesday voted in large numbers, and nearly 59% voted against a proposal to amend the state constitution to remove abortion protections. In this respect, the conservative state echoed national trends: A recent Pew poll found that 61% of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Anti-abortion groups decried the Kansas vote and Biden’s actions.

“Biden and the Democrats make a serious error in assuming Americans nationwide agree with their radical agenda — using the full weight of the federal government to impose abortion on demand up to the moment of birth, illegally forcing taxpayers to fund it, ‘cracking down’ on nonprofits that provide life-affirming alternatives, and threatening to destroy any guardrails of democracy that stand in their way,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.

No state allows abortion at birth. Most abortions — about 91% of them — happen before the 13-week mark, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Research from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that abortions at or after 21 weeks of pregnancy represent just 1% of all U.S. abortions. Those cases, it said, are often the result of serious health risks to the fetus or the pregnant person.

Since the ruling, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have urged Congress to enshrine abortion access into federal law. Harris has spent the past few weeks crisscrossing the country to speak about the issue with legislators, health care providers, faith leaders and others.

She said the Biden administration’s policy is clear.

“We trust the judgment of the women of America to make decisions based on what they know is in their best interests,” she said.

“We trust the women of America to make those decisions, if she chooses, in consultation with her faith leader, with her physician, with her loved one. But we understand fully the government should not be making that decision for her.”