The World Health Organization will rename the monkey pox virus in response to growing concerns that its current name leads to stigma and discrimination, particularly against African nations.
More than 1,600 confirmed cases of monkeypox and nearly 1,500 suspected cases have been reported in 39 countries so far this year, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday. Thirty-two of these countries are newly affected. There have been 72 deaths in countries where monkeypox has been detected for years, mostly by animal-to-human spread, but no deaths in countries reporting cases for the first time.
The WHO is convening an emergency committee next week to assess whether monkey pox “represents a public health emergency of national concern.” A public health emergency of international concern is WHO’s highest alert level for viral outbreaks.
The agency had previously determined it did not need to meet, but with more countries affected and the recent “unusual” behavior of the virus, a coordinated global response is more necessary, officials said.
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“With the advice of the emergency committee, we may be in a better position to control the situation, but that does not mean that we are going directly to a public health emergency of international concern,” said Dr Ibrahima Soce Fall, emergencies of the WHO. director for Africa, said. “We don’t want to wait until the situation is out of control to start calling the emergency committee.”
Digitally colorized electron microscope (EM) image of a monkeypox virion (virus particle), published June 6, 2022. (Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
Last week, a group of about 30 scientists published a letter asking that the name of the virus be changed. The WHO said it was “working with partners and experts around the world to change the name of the monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes”.
“In the context of the current global epidemic, the continued reference and nomenclature of this African virus is not only inaccurate, but also discriminatory and stigmatizing,” the scientists said in the letter. “The most obvious manifestation of this is the use of photos of African patients to depict smallpox lesions in mainstream media in the global north.”
A top WHO adviser said the outbreak in Europe and beyond was likely to have spread through sex at two recent rave parties in Spain and Belgium.
So far, many reported cases have been in men who have sex with men, but scientists warn that anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, is susceptible to monkeypox if they come into physical contact close contact with an infected person or with their clothes or bed sheets.
Information regarding the Monkeypox virus lies on the Salt Lake County Health Departments table during the Utah Pride Festival June 5, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Alex Goodlett for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The disease usually begins with flu-like symptoms and swollen lymph nodes, followed by a rash on the face and body.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.