Why is WHO changing the name of monkeypox?

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As the World Health organisation (WHO) convenes an emergency committee to determine if the expanding monkeypox outbreak should be considered a global health emergency, it is also looking into changing its name. The development comes amid calls from scientists for a “non-discriminatory and non-stigmatizing” name.

WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that it is working on the matter. “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.

WHY IS WHO CHANGING THE NAME OF MONKEYPOX?

The decision to look into a new name comes days after a group of 30 scientists from Africa and around the world called for changing the name. In a paper, the group pointed out the continuous use of photos of African patients to depict pox lesions in the mainstream media.

The WHO lists the virus under two distinct strains: the Central African (Congo Basin) clade and the West African clade.

“Although the origin of the new global outbreak is still unknown, there is growing evidence that the most likely scenario is that cross-continent, cryptic human transmission has been ongoing for longer than previously thought. However, there is 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,” scientists said.

They said that a nomenclature that is neutral, non-discriminatory, and non-stigmatising will be more appropriate for the global health community.

Also Read | How to stop monkeypox? WHO expert lists key measures

WHAT DO SCIENTISTS WANT?

Scientists have proposed a new way to name the viral outbreak under clades 1, 2, and 3, in order of detection. These include viral genomes from Western Africa, Central African, and localized spillover events in global north countries and from both human and non-human hosts.

They have proposed clade 1 to be of the Congo Basin clade, and clades 2 and 3 correspond to the prior “West African clade”.

“The entire epidemic of MPXV regardless of the location, needs to be halted, not just this Northern hemisphere outbreak. A practical and neutral system of nomenclature allows efficient communication without the risk of further misconceptions, discrimination, and stigmatisation,” the group said in its paper.

30 scientists from Africa and around the world called for changing the name. (Photo: Reuters)

AN INTERNATIONAL EMERGENCY?

The WHO is working on identifying if the outbreak is indeed a global emergency as more than 1,600 cases and nearly 1,500 suspected cases have been reported this year in 39 countries.

Declaring monkeypox to be an international health emergency would give it the same designation as the Covid-19 pandemic and mean that WHO considers the normally rare disease a continuing threat to countries globally.

“With the advice from the emergency committee, we can be in a better position to control the situation. But it doesn’t mean that we are going straight to a public health emergency of international concern. We don’t want to wait until the situation is out of control to start calling the emergency committee,” Dr. Ibrahima Soce Fall, WHO’s emergencies director for Africa said.

Also Read | What is monkeypox outbreak that is raising concerns globally?



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