‘Discrimination can be as dangerous’: Monkeypox to be renamed due to ‘stigmatising’ name

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The US newspaper Politico has confirmed with three sources that the World Health Organisation (WHO) is set to rename the virus and the announcement is expected sometime this week. WHO initially came to an agreement this summer to come up with new suggestions for a name for the virus.

In June this year, WHO’s Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the health organisation was “working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of the monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes”.

He added: “Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus.”

Senior members within US President Joe Biden’s administration have been privately urging WHO to change the name and apparently suggested their own government should consider a change if the health organisation did not move fast enough.

It’s been reported that those in the President’s administration have been worried that the virus’s name was deepening bigotry, especially towards people of colour.

There were concerns the name may be preventing people from getting the vaccination, which was rolled out in the summer.

Public health experts called for an “urgent” change to the name earlier this year and describe calling the virus monkeypox as “inaccurate”, “discriminatory” and “stigmatising”.

In a joint statement this summer, a group of scientists wrote: “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.”

They warned of “an increasing narrative in the media and among many scientists that are trying to link the present global outbreak to Africa or west Africa, or Nigeria.”

The scientists also criticised the use of photos of African patients with monkeypox used by the media when the outbreak first began.

READ MORE: Monkeypox: Expert warns infection can cause conjunctivitis – symptoms

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, the US has recorded nearly 30,000 infections since the outbreak first began.

Due to President Biden’s vaccination push, however, the crisis appears to have subsided, as only 13 daily cases have been reported last week compared to 400 a day at its peak over the summer.

WHO has also recorded that 99 percent of US cases of the virus are related to male-on-male sexual contact, meaning public health care has been trying to target their vaccination campaign to specific communities more vulnerable to the virus.

White House Advisor Dr Ashish Jha urged people not to use the virus “to propagate homophobic or transphobic messaging,” and instead encouraged people to stick to evidence and be respectful.

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This year, some organisations have refused to use the name monkeypox, such as the California Department of Public Health which called it “MPX” and some LGBT communities, which called it “MPOX”.

The name originates when the virus was first documented in a group of lab monkeys in 1958 at the Copenhagen research institute due to it being an orthopoxvirus, which is a type of virus often named for the animals that initially identified the virus.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the US government’s leading expert on infectious diseases, said: “Monkeypox is kind of a strange name to give to a disease that’s now afflicting humans.”

The Dean of Rutgers School of Public Health said on changing the virus’s name: “Is there going to be one solution that’s going to make every single person happy? Nope.

“But there’s going to be one solution that’s going to be the least offensive of all of the solutions, and it’s going to move us in a slightly better direction with this disease.”



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