Portland News

World Health Organization urged to change monkeypox name due to stigma

Monkeypox stigma has prompted the World Health Organization to come up with a name change
Monkeypox stigma has prompted the World Health Organization to come up with a name change

Image source: News-Medical

When monkeypox first broke out decades ago, scientists and activists pushed for a name that sounded less discriminatory and “non-stigmatizing.”

Public health experts feared that the name would create a stigma that would make it unattractive for people to get tested and vaccinated.

According to experts, a new name would help spread the disease.

60,000 cases have been reported worldwide, and in June, the director-general of the World Health Organization promised to change the name of the virus.

How did it get its name?

Traditionally, the scientist who isolates a virus gets credit for giving it a name, and monkeypox has been named after him for 64 years.

Researcher Preben von Magnus and his team discovered two “smallpox-like” outbreaks in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1958.

The virus was found in a colony of crab-eating macaques, but it wasn’t until 1970 that the first human case of monkeypox was documented.

Although the baby had recovered from the infection, he would die of measles six days later.

Since then, cases have been documented in West and Central Africa.

According to the CDC, cases in other places were related to travel.

In 2018, cases emerged in countries that hadn’t seen the disease for decades, leading to a global health problem.

It wasn’t until this year, when outbreaks began to occur in countries where monkeypox had never been recorded, that a name change was made.

Read also: Monkeypox vaccine supplies take a shift with a new strategy

Names suggested for old viruses

According to WHO, the naming process is ongoing with a reconsideration of orthopoxvirus species, including the following:

  • Camelpox
  • Cowpox
  • Horsepox
  • Monkeypox
  • Raccoonpox
  • Skunkpox

WHO member of the taxonomy committee, Colin McInnes, said the panel’s mandate is to bring “virus species nomenclature into line with the way that most other forms of life are named.”

He shared that while smallpox viruses are traditionally named after the animal that is first seen, it has also caused some inconsistencies.

The origin of Monkeypox is still unknown and probably did not begin with monkeys, as it can be found in many other types of animals.

McInnes, deputy director and chief scientist of the Moredun Group, a group that develops vaccines and tests for livestock and other animals, is also studying brainpox.

Squirrelpox should also change its name. He said the monkeypox virus and others would be renamed “orthopoxvirus” and “something.”

“It is the ‘something’ that is currently being debated,” said McInnes.

He revealed that some scientists prefer to stick with the name monkeypox in order to maintain the link to 50 years of published research.

The WHO committee has until June next year to propose changes.

The stigma

Many scientists have called on the WHO to work with greater urgency.

In July, weeks passed without any action, prompting the New York City Health Commissioner to send a letter to the WHO.

The letter urged them to act before it is too late, citing growing concerns over the stigmatizing impact the message surrounding the monkeypox virus may have on communities.

The epidemic largely affects gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men, causing ongoing stigma and concern for WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“Stigma and discrimination can be just as dangerous as any virus,” Tedros said when he declared monkeypox a global health emergency in July.

The CDC reports that the virus disproportionately affects blacks and Hispanics in the United States.

Local public health data shows that fewer members of both communities are receiving the vaccine.

Experts fear that, aside from the barriers that make access to any kind of health care difficult, some people are not receiving the vaccine or are not being tested due to stigma.

Read also: New York Declares Monkeypox Outbreak a Public Health Emergency

Other suggestions

In the 2015 WHO naming conventions, the organization encouraged consultants not to name diseases based on animals, names, occupations, and places due to stigma.

Last month, WHO also encouraged the submission of new names for monkeypox on its website.

More than 180 names were presented with a wide mix of creative explanations.

Names like lopox, ovidpox, mixypox, and roxypox contained no explanation. Meanwhile, a handful were kidding, like Alaskapox, Bonopox, and Rodent Pox.

Johanna Vogl introduced “greypox,” saying the name referred to a phenotypic characteristic of the disease and greyish blisters.

She also explained that it is not associated with human skin color, location, group or animal.

Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an instructor in emergency medicine at Harvard, suggested “Opoxide-22.”

“While the monkeypox virus causing the current outbreak is not a novel pathogen, I propose that due to its destination as a public health emergency of international concern, renaming it is warranted,” Faust explained.

He added that he was concerned about the inaccuracy of the monkeypox name and the stigma attached to it, saying he had submitted the name pending the completion of further work.

The name Opoxid-22 reflects what is known about the virus and removes the “monkey” from the name.


Worries over stigma are driving a push to rename monkeypox, but the process is slow

Opinions expressed by Portland News contributors are their own.