What’s in a name? William Shakespeare posed the question in Romeo and Juliet. Now the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) seeks help in its quest to rename the monkeypox virus and spare victims from “discriminatory and stigmatising” impacts associated with the nomenclature.
On Friday the U.N. subsidiary announced it was setting up an open public forum to achieve that goal.
W.H.O. outlined the decision was made after the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) met with its representatives.
Together they will work to identify best practices for naming new human diseases to “avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups, and minimise any negative impact on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare.”
The U.N. health agency said in the interim it has also renamed two families, or clades, of the keypoxvirus, using Roman numerals instead of geographic areas, to avoid adverse connotations around the name.
As Breitbart News reported, the plea for public help in renaming monkeypox comes just days after the W.H.O. cautioned monkeys have been poisoned and killed in Brazil by those seeking misplaced vengeance against the presumed source of the contagion.
Brazilian news website G1 reported last week ten monkeys had been poisoned in less than a week in the city of Sao Jose do Rio Preto, in Sao Paulo state. Similar incidents were reported in other cities.
The new name, W.H.O. scientists proposed, would minimise the “negative impacts on nations, geographic regions, economies and people and that considers the evolution and spread of the virus.”
The push for a renaming comes despite numerous other diseases, including Japanese encephalitis, Marburg virus, German measles, Spanish influenza, and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome have been named after the geographic areas where they first arose or were identified.
W.H.O. has not publicly suggested changing any of those names.
Instead the scientists proposed a neutral name that accounts for the evolution of the virus rather than highlight the distant link to a primate.
“In the context of the current global outbreak, continued reference to, and nomenclature of this virus being African is not only inaccurate but is also discriminatory and stigmatising,” they said in a joint statement. “The most obvious manifestation of this is the use of photos of African patients to depict the pox lesions in mainstream media in the global north.”
W.H.O. declared the global spread of monkeypox to be an international emergency in July and the U.S. declared its own epidemic to be a national emergency earlier this month.
Outside of Africa, 98 percent of cases are in men who have sex with men. With only a limited global supply of vaccines, authorities are racing to stop the virus before it becomes entrenched as a new disease.
Prior to 2022, monkeypox cases almost always linked to international travel to countries where the disease is common or through imported animals. The first human case was in 1970.
The renaming push comes even as most Americans say they are not worried about personally experiencing monkeypox in the United States, despite the U.S. declaring a state of emergency over the illness, a survey from The Economist/YouGov found.
Anyone wishing to propose new names for ‘monkeypox’ can do so here (see ICD-11, Add proposals).