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The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced plans to find a new name for the viral disease informally known as ‘monkeypox’ which, says the world body, is “discriminatory and stigmatizing.” 

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a briefing on the matter, said the virus is no longer behaving as it did in the past and therefore should be renamed. But a public narrative persists in suggesting the current outbreak is linked to Africa, West Africa or Nigeria, noted a group of 29 biologists and other researchers. That builds on an existing stigma, although the virus has been detected without a clear link to Africa.

The majority—84%—of confirmed cases are from the European region, followed by the Americas, Africa, Eastern Mediterranean region and Western Pacific region.

“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,” the researchers said.

Ahmed Ogwell, deputy director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than a dozen infectious disease experts in the U.S. and Europe are soliciting suggestions for a new name using the website virological.org.

“We are removing the distinction between endemic and non-endemic countries, reporting on countries together where possible, to reflect the unified response that is needed,” the WHO said in its outbreak situation update dated June 17 but sent to media on Saturday.

As for what the virus should be called, the scientists suggest starting with hMPXV, to denote the human version of the monkeypox virus. Rather than geographic locations, they say, letters and numbers should be used, based on order of discovery. In that system, the lineage behind the current international outbreak would be dubbed B.1.

The Geneva-based UN health agency is due to hold an emergency meeting on June 23 to determine whether to classify the global monkeypox outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern—the highest alarm the U.N. agency can sound.

It has been reported in 39 countries so far in 2022, and most of them are having their first-ever cases of the disease, according to the WHO. Worldwide, it says, there are around 3,100 confirmed or suspected cases, including 72 deaths. The normal initial symptoms include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blistery chickenpox-like rash.

Between Jan. 1 and June 15, 2,103 confirmed cases, a probable case and one death have been reported to the WHO in 42 countries, it said.

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