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Why the WHO is renaming monkeypox

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(The Hill) — The World Health Organization is renaming monkeypox amid concerns that the name may be considered racist and might not accurately describe the origin of the virus.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in mid-June that the organization would be renaming monkeypox.

“WHO is also working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of #monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes. We will make announcements about the new names as soon as possible,” he said, according to WHO.

A group of scientists wrote a joint statement earlier in June urging for monkeypox to be renamed, calling the current name “discriminatory and stigmatizing.”

“The prevailing perception in the international media and scientific literature is that [monkeypox virus] is endemic in people in some African countries. However, it is well established that nearly all [monkeypox virus] outbreaks in Africa prior to the 2022 outbreak, have been the result of spillover from animals to humans and only rarely have there been reports of sustained human-to-human transmissions,” 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 most obvious manifestation of this is the use of photos of African patients to depict the pox lesions in mainstream media in the global north.”


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There are also concerns about whether the name of the virus accurately describes the origin of monkeypox. The virus received its name because it was first found in monkey colonies in 1958, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that the actual source of the virus is unclear.

That’s led some officials to warn people against targeting monkeys over the disease.

“What people need to know very clearly is the transmission we are seeing is happening between humans to humans. It’s close contact transmission. So the concern should be about where it’s transmitting in the human population, and what humans can do to protect themselves from getting it and transmitting it. They should certainly not be attacking any animals,” WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said on Tuesday.

The renaming campaign comes amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which former President Trump has referred to as the ‘China virus” and “Wuhan virus.” WHO officials have warned not to use that terminology, given that it can stigmatize the Asian community.

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