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The World Health Organization says it is holding an open forum to rename monkeypox after some critics expressed concerns that the name could be seen as discriminatory and stigmatizing.
The WHO said the decision was made after a meeting with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which is helping to identify best practices for naming new human diseases to “prevent offense given to cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups, and to minimize any negative impact on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare.”
In a statement released Friday, the UN health agency said it has also renamed two families, or clades, of the virus, using Roman numerals instead of geographic areas, to avoid stigmatization.
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The version of the disease formerly known as the Congo Basin will now be known as Clade one or I and the West African clade will be known as Clade two or II.
The WHO said the new names for the clades will take effect immediately, while a new name for the disease and virus is underway. The WHO said anyone wishing to submit a name suggestion can do so on their website.
The decision comes after a group of scientists proposed an “urgent” name change in June, calling the current name “discriminatory and stigmatizing.”
The new name, they suggested, would minimize “negative effects on countries, geographic regions, economies and people, taking into account the evolution and spread of the virus”.
The scientists suggested a neutral name that explains the evolution of the virus.
“In the context of the current global outbreak, the continued reference to and nomenclature that this virus is African is not only inaccurate, but also discriminatory and stigmatizing. The most obvious manifestation of this is the use of photographs of African patients to smallpox depict lesions in mainstream media in the north of the world,” they said in a joint statement.
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The Center of Disease Control notes that the source of monkeypox is unknown, despite the virus being named in 1958 when two outbreaks of a smallpox-like disease occurred in colonies where monkeys were kept for research.
Before 2022, cases of monkeypox were almost always linked to international travel to countries where the disease is common or from imported animals. The first human case was in 1970.
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“What people need to know very clearly is the transmission that we see taking place between people to people. It’s transmission through close contact. So the concern should be about where it’s transmitted in the human population, and what people can do to protect themselves.” They should certainly not attack animals,” WHO spokesman Margaret Harris said on Tuesday.