Monkeypox: WHO creates forum, asks public to propose new name for virus

Updated on Aug 13, 2022 08:56 PM IST

In a statement, the WHO said ‘monkeypox’ term was given in 1958 but as per the current best practice, names should be given to avert causing offence to any “cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups”.

Healthcare and LGBTQ rights activists hold a rally outside the San Francisco Federal Building in San Francisco, US, to demand an increase in monkeypox vaccines and treatments as the outbreak continues to spread. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP)
Healthcare and LGBTQ rights activists hold a rally outside the San Francisco Federal Building in San Francisco, US, to demand an increase in monkeypox vaccines and treatments as the outbreak continues to spread. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP)
Written by Sharangee Dutta | Edited by Aniruddha Dhar, New Delhi

The World Health Organization (WHO) has decided to rename monkeypox in an ongoing effort to discourage misconceptions and stigma around the zoonotic disease's current name. For this purpose, the United Nations health agency has created an open forum where suggestions can be submitted for the virus' new name.

The disease, which has now spread to more than 45 countries, and has in previous outbreaks been associated with rodents, is already been called by different names in some regions. For instance, in Chicago, US, the public health office uses the name ‘MPV’, Bloomberg reported.

Also Read | ‘Not the case everywhere’: WHO on monkeypox outbreak among gay men

The WHO has been in the process of renaming monkeypox since June alongside other efforts to urge the global community not to have any stereotypes around it. The zoonotic disease is disproportionately affecting men in sexual relationships with men and spreads via close contact.

In a statement issued on Friday, the WHO said the ‘monkeypox’ term was given after the virus's first discovery in 1958. However, after that, the current best practices in naming diseases and viruses were adopted.

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“Major variants were identified by the geographic regions where they were known to circulate. [The] current best practice is that newly-identified viruses, related disease, and virus variants should be given names with the aim to avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups, and minimize any negative impact on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare,” the statement read.

The WHO said it had called an ad hoc meeting on August 8 to allow virologists and public health experts to reach a consensus on new terminology.

“The group reached consensus on new nomenclature for the virus clades (virus variants) that is in line with best practices. They agreed on how the virus clades should be recorded and classified on genome sequence repository sites,” the statement added.

Henceforth, the agency further stated that the Congo Basin (central African) clade (variant) will be referred to as Clade I and the West African clade will be officially termed as Clade II. The WHO also decided that Clade II consists of two distinct subclades (sub-variants).

The agency said assigning new names to existing diseases is its responsibility under the “International Classification of Diseases”.

The WHO has shared a link to the open forum where anyone wishing to propose new names can do so.

Scientists have called the monkeypox name stigmatising and discriminatory, adding it bolsters racial stereotypes about black people, LGBTQ individuals and Africans.

Meanwhile, India reported its 10th monkeypox case earlier on Saturday after a 22-year-old woman of African origin tested positive for the virus in Delhi. This is the fifth case in the national capital, and the second confirmed in a woman in the country.

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