As COVID-19 restrictions and concerns are easing off around the world, there’s a new virus that is causing some concern. Originally officials referred to this virus as the “monkeypox”. This is, in part, due to it originating in the macaque monkey. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) is now changing the name of this virus in hopes of avoiding racist backlash against the African community as we saw against the Asian community during COVID.
WHO To Rename The Monkeypox Virus
To start, monkeypox is not a new virus. Doctors first discovered it in 1958. Currently, the naming system divides it into two strains: The West African version and the Central African/Congo Basin version. Experts, however, now wish to change it from calling it monkeypox to a simple number system. For example, MPXV1, MPXV2, and so on. This stems from fears that referring it to being from a specific geographic region will spark race-based aggression, discrimination, and violence against the African communities around the globe. Their concern is because this is exactly what happened with the COVID-19 virus and the Asian communities. (1)
The experts have also argued that the virus is now a human virus, and therefore the naming system needs to be slightly altered to distinguish this aspect. They want to name the virus hMPXV1, etc, with the “h” referring to the human aspect of the virus.
Besides avoiding racist backlash for specific communities of people, there are other benefits to moving away from region-based naming systems. For one, it actually encourages countries to do a better job of disease monitoring and alarm-raising when new diseases are found. Not naming based on the region where diseases and variants are discovered means countries don’t have to fear negative association with a virus. Without the negative association, they can be honest without fear of backlash.
Western Media Needs To Depict It Differently
Recently many photos that the press were using in publications about the monkeypox virus were of black people. The Foreign Press Association, Africa, has requested that Western journalists and media groups stop using photos of black people when reporting on the outbreak of the virus in their own countries. They said that this perpetuates negative stereotypes about the African race and the immunity of other races. Instead, they suggest using photos of hospitals in their own countries or graphical representations of the virus itself.
Much of the talk of a new name comes from a call from over 30 international scientists. They wrote an open letter to address the need for this change.
“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,” they wrote. “As any other disease, it can occur in any region in the world and afflict anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity. As such, we believe that no race or skin complexion should be the face of this disease.” (1)
More On Monkeypox
The monkeypox virus has been endemic in African nations for quite some time. That being said, it is usually only transmitted from animal to person. This is the first they are seeing human-to-human transmission, and scientists are not yet sure exactly how. They do know that it is being passed particularly in the bisexual and gay male communities via sexual intimacy. (2)
That being said, you can contract it by coming in close contact with someone who has the rash. This includes via materials such as clothing, blankets, and bedsheets. Though most cases are not particularly grave, it is important to seek medical attention if you think you may have the virus. Symptoms include typical virus symptoms such as fever, chills, aches, etc, but also a rash that can turn into small lesions in the skin. Doctors are particularly asking the gay male and bisexual community to be extra vigilant, as they appear to be the most affected by it.