The World Well being Group introduced final week that it’s “working with companions and specialists from world wide on altering the identify of monkeypox virus, its clades and the illness it causes.”
Monkeypox’s clades, that are completely different branches of the virus’ household tree, have been notably controversial as a result of they’re named after African areas.
Final yr the WHO formally named Covid-19 variants after Greek letters to keep away from stigmatising the locations the place they had been first detected.
Simply days earlier than the WHO introduced it will change monkeypox’s identify, a gaggle of 29 scientists wrote a letter saying there’s an “pressing want for a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatising nomenclature” for the virus.
The letter, signed by a number of outstanding African scientists, referred to as for the names of the “West African” and the “Central African” or “Congo Basin” monkeypox clades to be modified.
Till just a few months in the past, monkeypox had largely been confined to West and Central Africa.
However since Could, a brand new model has unfold throughout a lot of the world. The letter’s signatories prompt naming this model as a brand new clade, giving it “the placeholder label hMPXV” — for human monkeypox virus.
Out of the greater than 2,100 monkeypox instances recorded globally this yr, 84 p.c had been in Europe, 12 p.c within the Americas and simply three p.c in Africa, in line with the WHO’s newest replace final week.
– ‘Not a monkey illness’ – Oyewale Tomori, a virologist at Redeemer’s College in Nigeria, stated he supported altering the identify of monkeypox’s clades.
“However even the identify monkeypox is aberrant. It isn’t the correct identify,” he informed AFP.
“If I had been a monkey, I’d protest as a result of it is not likely a monkey illness.”
The virus was named after it was first found amongst monkeys in a Danish lab in 1958, however people have largely contracted the virus from rodents.
The letter identified that “almost all” outbreaks in Africa had been sparked by individuals catching the virus from animals — not from different individuals.
However the present outbreak “is uncommon in that it’s purely spreading by means of human to human transmission,” stated Olivier Restif, an epidemiologist on the College of Cambridge.
“So, it’s honest to say that the present outbreak has little or no to do with Africa, in the identical means that the Covid-19 waves and variants we’re nonetheless being battered by have little to do with the Asian bats from which the virus initially got here just a few years in the past.”
– ‘Stigmatisation of Africa’ – Moses John Bockarie of Sierra Leone’s Njala College stated he agreed with the decision to vary monkeypox’s identify.
“Monkeys are normally related to the worldwide south, particularly Africa,” he wrote in The Dialog.
“As well as, there’s a lengthy darkish historical past of black individuals being in comparison with monkeys. No illness nomenclature ought to present a set off for this.”
Restif stated it was “essential to focus on that this debate is a component of a bigger difficulty with stigmatisation of Africa as a supply of illness.”
“We have seen it most strikingly with HIV within the 1980s, with Ebola through the 2013 outbreak and once more with Covid-19 and the reactions to the so-called ‘South African variants’,” he informed AFP.
An African press group has additionally expressed “its displeasure in opposition to media retailers utilizing pictures of black individuals alongside tales of the monkeypox outbreak in North America and the UK.
“We condemn the perpetuation of this damaging stereotype that assigns calamity to the African race and privilege or immunity to different races,” The International Press Affiliation, Africa tweeted final month.
Restif identified that the “outdated inventory images of African sufferers” utilized by Western media normally depict extreme signs.
However the monkeypox spreading world wide “is way milder, which partly explains how simply it will get transmitted,” he stated.
The WHO will announce the brand new monkeypox names “as quickly as potential”, its chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated.
The UN company can also be holding an emergency committee assembly on Thursday to evaluate whether or not the outbreak represents a public well being emergency of worldwide concern — the very best alarm it might sound.