HEALTH

Kenyans can propose new name for Monkeypox – WHO

Disease was first identified in Europe but the name is stigmatising to monkeys and to Africa, which is associated with the animals

In Summary

•The WHO called for help in coming up with a less stigmatising designation for the fast-spreading disease amid concerns about the name.

•Earlier this week, a group of global experts convened by WHO agreed on new names for the virus variants.

Symptoms of monkeypox include a rash which starts on the face and spreads to the body
Symptoms of monkeypox include a rash which starts on the face and spreads to the body
Image: GETTY IMAGES

The World Health Organization has invited proposals for a new name for monkeypox, saying the current name is stigmatising to monkeys, who have little to do with its spread, and the African continent which is often associated with the animals.

The WHO called for help in coming up with a less stigmatising designation for the fast-spreading disease amid concerns about the name.

“Human monkeypox was given its name before current best practices in naming diseases,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.

“We want really to find a name that is not stigmatising,” she said.

The consultation is now open to everyone through a dedicated website.

Monkeypox was first identified in Europe in Moneys kept for research in Denmark in 1958.

It was then found in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Earlier this week, a group of global experts convened by WHO has agreed on new names for monkeypox virus variants, as part of ongoing efforts to align the names of the monkeypox disease, virus and variants – or clades – with current best practices.

The experts agreed to name the clades using Roman numerals.

The monkeypox virus was named upon first discovery in 1958, before current best practices in naming diseases and viruses were adopted. Similarly for the name of the disease it causes.

Major variants were identified by the geographic regions where they were known to circulate.

Current best practice is that newly-identified viruses, related disease, and virus variants should be given names with the aim to avoid causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups, and minimize any negative impact on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare.

 Assigning new names to diseases is the responsibility of WHO under the International Classification of Diseases and the WHO Family of International Health Related Classifications (WHO-FIC).

The naming of virus species is the responsibility of the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV), which has a process underway for the name of the monkeypox virus. 

The naming of variants for existing pathogens is normally the result of debate amongst scientists.

Experts in pox virology, evolutionary biology and representatives of research institutes from across the globe reviewed the phylogeny and nomenclature of known and new monkeypox virus variants or clades.

They discussed the characteristics and evolution of monkeypox virus variants, their apparent phylogenetic and clinical differences, and potential consequences for public health and future virological and evolutionary research.

The group reached consensus on new nomenclature for the virus clades that is in line with best practices. They agreed on how the virus clades should be recorded and classified on genome sequence repository sites.

Consensus was reached to now refer to the former Congo Basin (Central African) clade as Clade one (I) and the former West African clade as Clade two (II). Additionally, it was agreed that the Clade II consists of two subclades.

The proper naming structure will be represented by a Roman numeral for the clade and a lower-case alphanumeric character for the subclades.

Thus, the new naming convention comprises Clade I, Clade IIa and Clade IIb, with the latter referring primarily to the group of variants largely circulating in the 2022 global outbreak. The naming of lineages will be as proposed by scientists as the outbreak evolves. Experts will be reconvened as needed.

The new names for the clades should go into effect immediately while work continues on the disease and virus names.

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