New York asks WHO to rename monkeypox due to stigma

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The New York City Department of Health is calling on the World Health Organization (WHO) to immediately rename the monkeypox virus.

In a letter to WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Wasan wrote that while the Big Apple remains concerned about the rapid increase in transmission and limited access to testing resources and vaccine supplies, it is “growing concerned” about stigmatization and “potentially damaging » consequences. messages around monkeypox can have an impact on vulnerable communities.

“So I am writing to urge you to take immediate action to rename the monkeypox virus, as the WHO said during a press briefing on 14 June. [five] weeks ago, New York joined many public health experts and community leaders in expressing serious concern about the continued use of the term monkeypox exclusively, given the stigma it can generate and the painful and racist history in which such the terminology has taken root for communities of color. he said.

Last week, Tedros and the WHO declared the international outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

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“Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus,” he told reporters.

Monkeypox-related reports divided officials, and in June Tedros announced that the UN health agency was working with experts to change the name.

New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Ashwin Vasan speaks during a press conference at Elmhurst Hospital.

New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Ashwin Vasan speaks during a press conference at Elmhurst Hospital.
(Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Humans usually become infected with monkeypox virus through contact with skin lesions or bodily fluids of infected animals or humans, or through contact with materials contaminated with the virus.

While most cases have been seen in gay or bisexual men, experts warn that anyone is at potential risk.

Earlier in June, a group of scientists wrote in a forum that the continued reference and nomenclature of the virus as African “is not only inaccurate, but also discriminatory and stigmatizing.”

Now the virus has spread in more than 75 countries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most of which have not historically reported monkeypox.

According to WHO, monkeypox is endemic in West and Central Africa.

People wait to receive a monkeypox vaccine at a mass vaccination site in Manhattan on July 26, 2022 in New York City.

People wait to receive a monkeypox vaccine at a mass vaccination site in Manhattan on July 26, 2022 in New York City.
(Liao Pan/China News Service via Getty Images)

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“Monkeypox” is a misnomer as the virus does not originate from monkeys and was only classified as such because of an infection found in research primates,” Vasan added.

Wasan said continued use of the term “monkey pox” could resurrect traumatic feelings of racism and stigma, especially for black communities, other communities of color, and members of LGBTQIA+ communities.

Commissioner Ashwin Vasan speaks to health officials before the opening of a mass monkeypox vaccination site at the Bushwick Educational Campus in Brooklyn, July 17, 2022.

Commissioner Ashwin Vasan speaks to health officials before the opening of a mass monkeypox vaccination site at the Bushwick Educational Campus in Brooklyn, July 17, 2022.
(Kena Betancourt/AFP via Getty Images)

Wasan also noted that Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate crimes have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, warning that this could lead to additional repercussions for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. . because of the stigma.

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“Words can save lives or put them at further risk, so the world can’t repeat these mistakes in nomenclature again,” he said. “We are at a critical crossroads in the monkeypox outbreak—before understanding and awareness of the virus spreads more widely, but also at a time of increased transmission when we need to communicate primary prevention and risk widely. The WHO must act at this moment before it is too late.”

As of Tuesday, 1,092 people have been tested for orthopoxvirus and monkeypox, according to city data, but there are likely many more cases that have not been diagnosed.