The World Health Organization (WHO) has approved a plan to rename the monkeypox virus. The move follows claims the old name, which has been used to identify the virus in humans for more than 50 years, is “racist.”
Activists claim the name “monkeypox” carries a negative stigma because the virus originated in Africa.
Concerns about the name monkeypox arose after the virus was found in human patients in Europe and the United States earlier this year.
Though the number of cases has been small, New York City Mayor Eric Adams issued an emergency executive order declaring a local state of emergency due to the monkeypox outbreak. The mayor’s office released the following statement:
“As the monkeypox outbreak continues to grow in New York City and across the country, I am today issuing an emergency executive order declaring a local state of emergency. New York City now has over 1,200 reported cases, approximately 25 percent of cases nationally, and we are continuing to see the numbers rise. This order will bolster our existing efforts to educate, vaccinate, test, and treat as many New Yorkers as possible and ensure a whole-of-government response to this outbreak. In partnership with federal, state, and local officials, we will continue to respond with the urgency required to keep people safe, and this order is another tool to help us do so.”
Politico reports the WHO is expected to announce the name change later this week.
In June, the WHO said it was in the process of renaming several viruses because current guidelines discourage using geographic regions or animals in virus designations or diagnoses. Over the summer, the WHO renamed the Congo Basin clade and West African clade to Clade I and Clade II.
A representative from the WHO said:
“Current best practice is that newly-identified viruses, related disease, and virus variants should be given names with the aim to avoid causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups, and minimize any negative impact on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare.”
The WHO reports that scientists support the name change — noting that a “group of scientists” argued that “continued reference to, and nomenclature of this virus being African is not only inaccurate but is also discriminatory and stigmatizing.”
Samuel Miriello, HR and partnerships director at REZO Sante, argued in his recommendation for a name change: “Mpox is, by far, the most understandable name. Mpox is a name that was generated by an alliance of Canadian LGBT+ community organizations that work directly with the impacted population—men who have sex with men.”
The Washington Examiner reported that Biden administration officials urged the WHO to move forward with the name change quickly — citing concerns that “continued stigma around the name would impede vaccination efforts, especially among people of color.”
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