Scientists push for monkeypox name change

Discussions on a name change to monkeypox, which some countries and experts consider demeaning, began with the support of the WHO (World Health Organization).

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week that announcements on the topic should be made as soon as possible.

The objective is to change not only the name of the virus, which has already been registered in more than 40 countries, but that of its different strains.

Strains are named based on the African regions or countries where they were first located. For example, the West African strain or the Congo Basin strain (more lethal).

Earlier this month, more than 30 scientists, most of them African, published an open letter in which they demanded a change in nomenclature so that it “is not discriminatory or stigmatizing”.

According to these scientists, taking into account that since May a new version of the virus has been circulating around the world, it should just be called hMPXV (h for human).

This year, after an initial wave in ten African countries, 84% of new cases were detected in Europe and 12% in the American continent.

Almost 2,100 cases of this type of smallpox have been detected since the beginning of 2022 in the world.

Naming the disease monkeypox implies basically relating it to African countries, criticize some experts.

“It’s not a disease that can really be attributed to monkeys,” virologist Oyewale Tomori of Redeemer University in Nigeria told AFP.

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The disease was discovered by Danish scientists in the 1950s in caged monkeys in a laboratory. But humans contracted the virus mainly from rodents.

The African continent has historically been associated with major pandemics.

“We saw this with HIV in the 1980s, or the Ebola virus in 2013, and then with Covid and the supposed ‘South African variants,'” epidemiologist Oliver Restif told AFP.

“This is a broader debate and is related to the stigmatization of Africa,” he added.

The scientist even criticizes the images that are used by the press to illustrate news about the disease.

They are often “old photographs of African patients”, when in reality the current cases “are much less serious”, he said.