Monkeypox Is Getting a Name Change

As the World Health Organization works to get a grasp on the ongoing monkeypox outbreak, a new issue has arisen that the body said it will address. Changing the name of the virus.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Chebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva Tuesday that an emergency committee meeting will convene shortly. The purpose is to decide if the monkeypox outbreak is a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

Tedros told reporters that there are over 1,600 confirmed and nearly 1,500 suspected monkeypox cases in 39 countries this year. Seven are places where the virus is endemic, meaning 32 are nations that do not normally deal with the virus.

Recently, a group of 30 African scientists declared the “urgent need” for the WHO to change the name of the virus. The scientists argue that describing the virus as “African” is not correct and “discriminatory.” They cite an uptick in mentions of the virus’ origin.

Media outlets reportedly used photos of African patients in stories detailing the outbreak that spread into Europe and North America. One of the authors of the paper sent to the WHO described current references as “racist” and “stigmatizing.”

He urged the health organization to rename the virus itself and assign numbers to the variants much in the way letters of the Greek alphabet were used to designate new COVID-19 strains.

Currently the two monkeypox strains are called West Africa and Congo Basin.

The WHO’s own guidelines recommend against giving geographical names or those of people or animals to diseases. Even “inappropriate names,” the organization says, are tough to remove from common usage once they are established.

Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 in lab monkey colonies that suffered outbreaks. A human case followed in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the majority of cases on the African continent are still found there.

Cases that sporadically popped up internationally before the current outbreak have been linked either to travel or to animals imported from the region.

There are currently two PHEICs for the WHO, polio and COVID-19. The virus currently known as monkeypox would be the third, and by legal agreement of 196 countries will require action if the designation is applied.