NYC calls on WHO to rename monkeypox over racism and 'stigma'

New York City’s Health Department is calling on the World Health Organization to 'immediately' rename the Monkeypox virus.

NYC calls on WHO to rename Monkeypox over racism and 'stigma'
Twitter / NYCHealthCommr; Johanna Geron, Pool Photo via AP
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Posting on Twitter, health commish Ashwin Vasan stated that the city has a “growing concern for the potentially stigmatizing effects that the messaging around the ‘monkeypox’ virus can have on vulnerable communities.” 

According to the letter, which was addressed to WHO Director Tedros Ghebreyesus, the city’s health commissioner expressed immediate concern for the “potentially devastating and stigmatizing effects that the messaging around the ‘monkeypox’ virus can have on these already vulnerable communities,” of which men who have sex with men have been primarily diagnosed with. 

“Therefore, I write to urge you to act immediately on renaming the ‘monkeypox’ virus as the WHO stated they would do so during a June 14th press briefing, over 5 weeks ago,” he added. 

As reported by Rebel News in June, the WHO announced that it planned to rename the virus over concerns of “stigma” and “discrimination” after a group of scientists called on the organization to rename monkeypox to “hMPXV,” which is unpronounceable. 

Monkeypox, which has been endemic in Africa, is apparently in violation of the World Health Organization’s guidelines to disavow the use of geographic locations and animals.  

The move to do away with geographic regions in the naming of diseases comes following concerns that the historic convention promoted bias against certain groups of people, such as those residing in the locations the diseases are named after, the World Health Organization announced in 2015.  

The decision to rename monkeypox comes after more than 30 scientists, most of whom are from Africa, complained that calling it “monkeypox” was stigmatizing to Africans.  

Now, Commissioner Vasan says that the city “joins many public health experts and community leaders who have expressed serious concern about continuing to e exclusively use the term ‘monkeypox’ given the stigma it may engender, and the painful and racist history within which terminology like this is rooted for communities of colour.”  

Vasan suggests that the WHO ought to adopt terminology like “hMPXV” to refer to the monkeypox virus, or “MPV” for short.  

“We need leadership from the WHO to ensure consistency in naming and to reduce confusion to the public,” he said, suggesting that every health organization do away with the term monkeypox, which is already in broad usage.  

“Further, as we are reminded by fierce advocates who served on the front lines as the HIV/AIDS epidemic emerged, early misinformation about the virus led people to believe that it was spread to humans after people in Africa engaged in sexual activity with monkeys,” continued the health commissioner.   

“This kind of false messaging created incalculable harm and stigma for decades to come. Continuing to use the term ‘monkeypox’ to describe the current outbreak may reignite these traumatic feelings of racism and stigma — particularly for Black people and other people of colour, as well as members of the LGBTQIA+ communities, and it is possible that they may avoid engaging in vital health care services because of it,” he added. 

“The language we use in public health matters, and it has tangible effects on the safety of communities most at risk for poor health outcomes,” said the health official. “We know that during the COVID-19 pandemic, hate crimes against Asian and Pacific Islander individuals have exponentially increased, in no small part due to the stigmatizing, racist and false names that were associated with the virus in early 2020.” 

The city official noted that New York City saw a massive increase in reports on anti-Asian hate incidents, but did not specify who committed violence against them.  

“We fear the consequences due to 'monkeypox'-related stigma may be exacerbated given that in many contexts, transmission is concentrated among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men — a population we know to face ongoing stigma, marginalization, violence and even criminalization,” said Vasan. “Words can save lives or put them at further risk; thus, the world cannot repeat these mistakes in nomenclature again.”

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