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Scientists Want To Rename Monkeypox Because It’s ‘Stigmatizing’ To Africans

(Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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A group of scientists, mostly hailing from Africa, are calling for the scientific community to rename monkeypox viruses due to concerns that the current geographically-determined names are offensive.

The group of 29 scientists wrote Friday that scientists should rename two monkeypox virus clades — the “West African” clade and the “Congo Basin” clade — to be identified by numbers instead of geographic origin points. The scientists said that, with growing attention on monkeypox caused by outbreaks in the West, the viruses should be renamed in line with best practices within the healthcare industry.

“Given the increasingly rapid communication of, and attention to, the international human MPXV outbreak, it is important to consider an appropriate, non-discriminatory, and non-stigmatizing nomenclature and classification of MPXV clades,” their publication said.

The scientists propose renaming the monkeypox clades to clades 1, 2 and 3, corresponding with the order of detection. Clade 1 would be the formerly-called “Congo Basin” clade, sometimes referred to as the “Central African” clade, and clades 2 and 3 would be the formerly “West African” clade.

“Failure to support and adopt the proposed nomenclature and classification may result in loss of interest in sustaining active surveillance and rapid reporting of pathogens with epidemic and pandemic potentials, by scientists and national public health institutions in Africa,” the scientists go on to say.

One of the scientists involved in the position paper, director of the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases Dr. Christian Happi, told STAT News that the way the media is covering the monkeypox outbreak in the West is “racist.” (RELATED: Here’s What The New African ‘Pox’ Sweeping The West Actually Looks Like)

“We find that very discriminatory, we find that very stigmatizing and to some extent … I find it very racist,” he said. “The mainstream media, instead of showing pictures of people that are presenting with the lesions, which are white men, they keep putting forward pictures of children in Africa and Africans. And there’s no connection.”

Happi referenced the COVID-19 pandemic and the refusal of scientists to call SARS-CoV-2 the “Wuhan virus” despite attempts to do so by some political figures. Scientists made a similar call to refer to variants of COVID-19 by numerical identifiers, rather than call them by their country of identification, due to fears about discrimination.

The monkeypox virus generally lives in African rainforests and outbreaks outside Africa are relatively uncommon.