The World Health Organization is to rename the increasingly spreading monkeypox virus after a group of scientists claimed the name could be ‘stigmatising’.
“WHO is also working with partners and experts around the world to change the name of the monkeypox virus,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. announced at a press briefing on Tuesday.
“We will make announcements on the new names as soon as possible.”
The dropping of the monkeypox label follows a letter from a group of 30 international scientists who wrote the “urgent need” for the name change last week.
“Given the increasingly rapid communication and attention to the international human MPXV epidemic, it is important to consider appropriate, non-discriminatory, and non-stigmatizing nomenclature and classification of MPXV clades,” part of the letter indicates.
Viral clades are defined as other groups of organisms with the same genetic structure.
“In the context of the current global epidemic, the continued reference and nomenclature of this virus as African is not only inaccurate, but also discriminatory and stigmatizing. The most obvious manifestation of this is the use of photos of African patients to depict smallpox lesions in mainstream media in the North. Recently, the Foreign Press Association, Africa released a statement urging global media to stop using images of Africans to highlight the outbreak in Europe.
Scientists propose “a new classification of MPXV that is non-discriminatory and non-stigmatizing and aligned with best practices in naming infectious diseases in a way that minimizes unnecessary negative impacts on nations, geographic regions, economies and people and which takes into account the evolution and spread of the virus.
A WHO spokesperson said in a email to Bloomberg News that the naming of diseases “should be done with the aim of minimizing negative impact and avoiding offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic group”.
The WHO will consult experts on orthopoxviruses, including monkeypox, for more appropriate names, the spokesperson said, according to Bloomberg.
There are 71 cases in 18 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York and California have the most cases with 15 each.
Tedros, at the press conference, called the virus outbreak “clearly unusual and concerning”. The WHO is convening an emergency committee to determine whether the virus should be treated as a public health emergency of international concern at the highest level.
There are 1,600 confirmed cases and another 1,500 suspected cases worldwide so far this year which have been discovered in 39 countries. The virus has killed 72 people worldwide.
Symptoms of the disease include flu-like symptoms and rashes, and the disease is spread through close contact.