WHO to rename monkeypox virus to avoid discrimination 

The World Health Organization has said it will rename monkeypox to avoid discrimination and stigmatisation as the virus continues to spread among people in an unprecedented global outbreak of the disease.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, said the organisation was “working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of the monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes”.

The move comes after scientists called for an “urgent” change to the name which they described as “inaccurate”, “discriminatory” and “stigmatising” in a report released last week. An announcement on the new name would be made “as soon as possible”, said Tedros.

Similar concerns were raised at the height of the coronavirus pandemic when new Covid variants were named after the countries or regions where they were first detected, leading to travel bans and other restrictions. 

In response, the WHO brought in a naming system that referred to new variants as letters of the Greek alphabet.

In the report, the scientists raise concerns that the “prevailing perception” in the media and scientific literature is that monkeypox virus is endemic in humans in some African countries, whereas the virus is overwhelmingly found in animals, which have historically sparked occasional outbreaks when they infect people.

The scientists warn of “an increasing narrative in the media and among many scientists that are trying to link the present global outbreak to Africa or west Africa, or Nigeria”. 

While the UK Health Security Agency first raised the alarm after a person with monkeypox arrived in London from Nigeria on 4 May, the virus had already been spreading for some time, predominantly among men who have sex with men.

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