WHO to name monkeypox to remove Africa stigma

The World Health Organisation (WHO) will officially rename monkeypox in light of concerns about stigma and racism surrounding the virus that has infected more than 1,600 people in more than two dozen countries.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s Director General, announced on Tuesday morning that the organisation was “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 was discriminatory and stigmatising, and there’s an “urgent” need to rename it. The current name was not in line with WHO’s guidelines that recommended avoiding geographic regions and animal names, a spokesperson said.

The proposal echoed a similar controversy that erupted when the WHO moved quickly to rename SARS-CoV-2 after people around the world referred to it as the China or Wuhan virus in the absence of an official designation. The actual animal source of monkeypox, which has been found in a wide variety of mammals, remained unknown.

“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 stigmatising,” the scientists’ group said in a letter online.

The WHO was consulting experts in orthopoxviruses—the family to which monkeypox belongs—on more appropriate names, a spokesperson said. Other disease names that run counter to the guidelines include swine flu, according to joint recommendations from the WHO, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

Naming diseases “should be done with the aim to minimise the negative impact,” the spokesperson said in an email, “and avoid causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”

Monkeypox has been endemic in west and central Africa for decades, but cases have primarily been associated with spillover from animals, rather than human-to-human transmission.

In past outbreaks outside African countries, such as in the US in 2003, cases were linked to contact with animals carrying the virus or travel to regions where it was endemic. -BBC

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