The World Health Organization (WHO) plans to officially rename monkeypox due to concerns that the name could encourage racism. Monkeypox has been prevalent in Africa for decades.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced on Tuesday that the organization is “working with partners and experts from around the world” to change the virus’ name as quickly as possible, Bloomberg reported.
A WHO spokesperson told Bloomberg in an email that the organization is working with experts on the virus to come up with a different name.
“[Naming a disease] should be done with the aim to minimize the negative impact and avoid causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups,” the spokesperson said.
The decision comes after dozens of international scientists called for the change in a letter highlighting the so-called “urgent need for a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatizing nomenclature for monkeypox virus.”
“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 stigmatizing. 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,” the letter insisted.
In May, the Foreign Press Association, Africa urged media outlets to refrain from using photos of black people in stories about monkeypox.
“OUR STATEMENT: The Foreign Press Association, Africa registers its displeasure against media outlets using images of black people alongside stories of the #monkeypox outbreak in North America and the United Kingdom,” the group tweeted.
The association said European and North American media outlets using images of black people in monkeypox stories is “disturbing” because the disease “can occur in any region in the world and afflict anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity.”
“Shouldn’t it be logical that if you are talking about the outbreak of monkeypox in Europe or the Americas, you should use images from hospitals across Europe or the Americas?” the group’s letter stated. “We condemn the perpetuation of this negative stereotype that assigns calamity to the African race and privilege or immunity to other races.”
“At a time when the world is forging alliances against systemic racism and racial stereotypes, the media should be at the forefront of shaping positive images and narratives, the group argued.
Similarly, the WHO skipped over the Greek alphabet letter “xi” when naming a variant of COVID-19 last year in an effort to avoid “causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.” The president of China and leader of the Chinese Communist Party is Xi Jinping.