The World Health Organization (WHO) will officially rename monkeypox to clarify that it isn’t African and scrap the possibility of offending anyone by making a particular race or skin complexion the face of the disease.
The racism and stigma concerns are similar to those that convinced the WHO to rename SARS-CoV-2 after it became commonly dubbed the China or Wuhan virus.
With over 1,600 reported human infections in over two dozen countries, 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,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the organization’s director-general, said Tuesday.
In a bid to find a more appropriate name, the WHO is turning to experts in orthopoxviruses — the family to which monkeypox belongs. The goal is to avoid offending any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic group.
The organization is taking other steps, as well, Ghebreyesus noted.
“The outbreak of monkeypox is unusual and concerning,” the director-general said Tuesday.
“For that reason, I have decided to convene the emergency committee under the international health regulations next week to assess whether this outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.”
The moves come after dozens of international scientists last week declared an “urgent” need to rename monkeypox, calling the label discriminatory and stigmatising.
It also runs counter to WHO guidelines aimed at avoiding geographic regions and animal names, they said.
“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 group wrote in an online letter.
In addition, the Foreign Press Association of Africa last month asked western media to stop using photos of Black people to illustrate what the virus does to the body.
“Images of black people in European and North American media stories about monkeypox are “disturbing,” the press association wrote. Read more here.
“As with any other disease, it can occur in any region in the world and afflict anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity.
“Shouldn’t it be logical that if you are talking about the outbreak of monkeypox in Europe or the Americas, you should use images from hospitals across Europe or the Americas?” the group asked.
As of Tuesday, June 14, the CDC had reported 65 monkeypox cases in the U.S., including 15 in California and 11 in New York. The biggest current outbreak – a reported 470 cases – has been in the United Kingdom.
The Monkeypox disease has been found in a wide variety of mammals. The actual source hasn’t been pinpointed.
Despite being endemic in west and central Africa for decades, documented cases had involved animal spillover and not transmission between or among humans.
The ongoing outbreak of monkeypox has been spreading through close, intimate contact and not through “passing interactions,” researchers note. It has caused illnesses that last several weeks and has rarely been deadly.
The symptoms are close to but milder than smallpox, ordinarily involving flu-like symptoms and then a rash that turns into lesions, the Centers for Disease Control reported.
It’s a little easier to contain – compared to COVID, for instance – since it’s difficult to spread. Many of those identified with monkeypox in the U.S. have been linked to travel to Europe, although the CDC warns that the virus has spread somewhat locally, too.
Scientists discovered monkeypox during two outbreaks of a pox-like disease in monkeys at a research facility in Denmark in 1958, according to the centers. The first human infection was identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970.