WHO to make monkeypox name change to combat stigma

More than 2,000 cases have been recorded globally in this year's outbreak

Test tubes holding samples that have tested positive for monkeypox. Reuters
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The World Health Organisation announced on Wednesday that it will rename monkeypox to avoid stigma and discrimination as the virus has regained a global prevalence with a rise in cases this spring.

About 30 scientists wrote a letter to the agency requesting that it change its use of "monkeypox" and references to the “West African clade and the Congo Basin (Central African) clade”, saying that adjustments would minimise discrimination and racism.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the agency will make the name change as soon as possible.

“The WHO 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 at a press briefing.

Similar name changes were requested and made early in the coronavirus pandemic, when scientists advocated avoiding using terms such as “the China virus” or other anti-Asian phrases for Covid-19.

The agency also stopped labelling Covid-19 variants from the country or region where they were first identified, instead using the Greek alphabet to name them.

The virus currently known as monkeypox was thusly named after it was discovered in two separate groups of monkeys used for research in 1958. The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970.

The fatality rate of monkeypox is commonly 3 to 6 per cent but no deaths have been recorded in the current outbreak.

There are currently 2,027 confirmed cases globally, data from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention show.

Most cases are being recorded in European countries, with the UK having registered 524 cases.

The US has reported 83 infections and the UAE has recorded 13.

The scientists also stated in their letter that “there is growing evidence that the most likely scenario is that cross-continent, cryptic human transmission has been ongoing for longer than previously thought”, making any African references irrelevant.

“The global outbreak of monkeypox is clearly unusual and concerning,” Dr Tedros said.

A committee under the global health agency will be meeting on June 23rd to consider whether the current outbreak should be declared a public health emergency of international concern.

This is the agency's highest alert level and allows the WHO to make global health recommendations and calls for member countries to work on treatments and countermeasures.

For example, the WHO still considers the coronavirus pandemic to be a public health emergency of international concern after it was first declared so in March 2020.

The declaration has been reviewed and renewed regularly ever since.

Updated: June 15, 2022, 11:08 PM
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