Monkeypox to be renamed to avoid causing offence

The WHO has announced it will be renaming the monkeypox virus to 'avoid causing offence.'

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) director general, announced on Tuesday 14 June that the organisation is 'working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes.'

Currently described as an 'African' virus

The WHO currently names the two types of monkeypox as the 'West African clade and the Congo Basin (Central African) clade,' as reported by Forbes. According to News Medical, a clade describes groups of similar viruses based on their genetic sequences.

The move comes after a paper was published last week by 29 international scientists who said that there was an ‘urgent need’ to rename the virus. The scientists said, as reported by New York Post:

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. Recently, Foreign Press Association, Africa issued a statement urging the global media to stop using images of African people to highlight the outbreak in Europe.

Will it now be called 'hMPXV''?

A spokesperson for the WHO told Forbes that monkeypox was named before the organisation developed guidelines that recommend avoiding geographic regions and animal names. They continued that the naming process should be 'done with the aim to minimize the negative impact and avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.'

The spokesperson added that the WHO is consulting experts in orthopoxviruses—the family to which monkeypox belongs—to explore more appropriate names, which they will announce as soon as possible.

In the paper, the scientists refer to the virus as 'hMPXV.' Whether this is one of the names the WHO chooses remains to be seen.

Next week, the WHO will hold an emergency meeting to decide whether to classify the outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern, which would put the virus in the same category as Swine flu, polio, Ebola, Zika, and Covid.

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