Why Monkeypox May Get a New Name Soon

Until a few months ago, smallpox was largely confined to West and Central Africa.


Monkey pox may soon get a new name after scientists called for a change to eradicate stereotypes from Africa that are seen as a melting pot of disease.

The World Health Organization announced last week that it was “working with partners and experts from around the world to change the name of the monkey pox virus, its clades and the disease that causes it.”

Monkeypox’s clades, which are different branches of the virus’ pedigree, were particularly controversial because they were named after African regions.

Last year, the WHO officially named Covid-19 variants after Greek letters to prevent the places where they were first detected from being stigmatized.

A few days before the WHO announced it was going to change the name of monkey pox, a group of 29 scientists wrote a letter saying there was an “urgent need for a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatizing nomenclature” for the virus.

The letter, signed by several prominent African scientists, called for the names of the “West African” and the “Central African” or “Kongokom” monkey poodle to be changed.

Until a few months ago, smallpox was largely confined to West and Central Africa.

But since May, a new version has spread across much of the world. The signatories of the letter suggested naming this version as a new clade, giving it “the placeholder label hMPXV” – for human monkey pox virus.

Of the more than 2,100 monkey cases recorded worldwide this year, 84 percent were in Europe, 12 percent in the Americas and just three percent in Africa, according to the WHO’s latest update last week.

“Not a monkey disease”

Oyewale Tomori, a virologist at Redeemer’s University in Nigeria, said he supported changing the name of monkey pox’s clades.

“But even the name monkey pox is deviant. It is not the real name,” he told AFP.

“If I were a monkey, I would argue, because it’s not really a monkey disease.”

The virus was named after it was first discovered among monkeys in a Danish laboratory in 1958, but humans contracted the virus mostly from rodents.

The letter pointed out that “almost all” outbreaks in Africa were caused by people contracting the virus from animals – not from other people.

But the current outbreak “is unusual in the sense that it is spread purely through human to human transmission,” said Olivier Restif, an epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge.

“It is therefore fair to say that the current outbreak has very little to do with Africa, in the same way that the Covid-19 waves and variants we are still hit with have little to do with the Asian bats from which the virus originally came a few years ago. “

‘Stigmatization of Africa’

Moses John Bockarie of Sierra Leone’s Njala University said he agreed with the call to change the name of monkey pox.

“Monkeys are usually associated with the global south, especially Africa,” he wrote in The Conversation.

“In addition, there is a long dark history of black people being compared to monkeys. No disease nomenclature should provide a trigger for this.”

Restif said it was “important to stress that this debate is part of a larger issue with stigmatizing Africa as a source of disease.”

“We saw it most strikingly with HIV in the 1980s, with Ebola during the 2013 outbreak and again with Covid-19 and the reactions to the so-called ‘South African variants’,” he told AFP.

An Afrikaans press group also expressed its displeasure over media outlets that use images of black people along with stories of the monkey pox outbreak in North America and the United Kingdom.

“We condemn the persistence of this negative stereotype that imposes disaster on the African race and privilege or immunity on other races,” The Foreign Press Association, Africa tweeted last month.

Restif pointed out that the “old stock photos of African patients” used by Western media usually portray severe symptoms.

But the monkey pox that is spreading around the world “is much lighter, which partly explains how easily it is transmitted,” he said.

The WHO will announce the new monkey poke name “as soon as possible”, said its chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The UN agency is also holding an emergency committee meeting on Thursday to determine whether the outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern – the highest alarm it could raise.

(This story was not edited by techlives staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated stream.)

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