New York City on Tuesday (July 27) called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to rename monkeypox, monkeypox in English, a name deemed stigmatizing and which risks pushing patients to isolate themselves rather than seek care.
“We are increasingly concerned about the potentially devastating and stigmatizing effects that messaging around the ‘monkey pox’ virus can have on [des] already vulnerable communities”writes New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan in a letter to WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus. The latter had also mentioned this possible change in mid-June, as Mr. Vasan recalls in his letter.
The WHO on Saturday declared a public health emergency of international concern (USPPI) for monkeypox. This is the highest level of alert for the institution, which has only used it for the seventh time.
According to the city’s health commissioner, this “terminology” is also “rooted in a racist and painful history for communities of color”.
In his letter, he recalls the negative effects of false information during the appearance of the AIDS virus (HIV) or of the racism suffered by Asian communities after the Covid-19 pandemic, which US President Donald Trump had described as “Chinese virus”.
“Traumatic feelings of racism and stigma”
“Continuing to use the term ‘monkey pox’ to describe the current outbreak may rekindle these traumatic feelings of racism and stigma – especially for black people and other people of color, as well as members of LGBTQIA+ communities, and they may avoid using vital healthcare services for this reason”adds Ashwin Vasan.
Anyone can catch monkeypox, but since its appearance in Europe and the United States, the virus spreads overwhelmingly among men who have sex with men.
New York is the city most affected in the United States in number of cases, with 1,092 contaminations detected since the start of the epidemic. More than 15,000 have been confirmed in 74 countries so far this year.