TIn light of racism and stigma around the virus, monkeypox will be officially renamed by the World Health Organization. over 1,600People in over two dozen countries.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, announced Tuesday morning that the organization is “working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes.” He said the WHO will make announcements about the new names as soon as possible.
More than 30 international scientists said last week that the monkeypox label is discriminatory and stigmatizing, and there’s an “urgent” need to rename it. The current name doesn’t fit with WHO guidelines that recommend avoiding geographic regions and animal names, a spokesperson said.
Similar controversy erupted in 2003 when WHO quickly renamed SARS CoV-2. This was after many people all over the world used the term “China or Wuhan virus” without a formal designation. Monkeypox has been confirmed in many mammals.
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“In the context of the current global outbreak, continued reference to, and nomenclature of this virus being African is not only inaccurate but is also discriminatory and stigmatizing,” the scientists’ group said in a letter online.
The WHO is consulting experts in orthopoxviruses—the family to which monkeypox belongs—on more appropriate names, a spokesperson said. According to WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health and Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations, swine influenza are other diseases that go against the guidelines.
Naming diseases “should be done with the aim to minimize the negative impact,” the spokesperson said in an email, “and avoid causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”
Since the 1970s, monkeypox has been an endemic disease in central and west Africa. However, cases are more likely to be due to spread from animals than from human-to-human transmission. Some cases of monkeypox have been linked to travel to endemic regions or contact with animal carriers in previous outbreaks. While it’s still unclear how monkeypox entered humans in the current outbreak, the virus has been spreading through close, intimate contact — a change from earlier episodes.
Others have also warned against stigmatizing communication regarding monkeypox. The Foreign Press Association of Africa published a warning in May. askedWestern media should stop using photographs of Black people in reporting about the U.S. and UK. In the weeks since, scientists have also raised the point that the lesions patients are presenting with in this current outbreak have, in many cases, been distinct from what’s been historically documented in Africa.
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“As any other disease, it can occur in any region in the world and afflict anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity,” the group wrote. “As such, we believe that no race or skin complexion should be the face of this disease.”
Scientists at the WHO and other institutions have pointed out that there’s been little international attention to the virus until it spread to countries outside Africa. Every monkeypox case “should be treated with the same attention and sense of urgency as the ones now in European countries and North America,” the group of 30 scientists said in their letter last week.
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