Don’t say monkeypox anymore, say… Well, for now, we don’t know. But a brainstorm is underway at the WHO to “change the name of this virus,” the son of CEO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has promised “announcements as soon as possible.” Beyond the virus alone, it would also and above all be about changing the name of its various strains, as well as that of the disease itself. Why such a change, at a time when smallpox has been spotted in more than 40 countries?
This consideration applies in particular to virus sources. They are in fact named after regions or countries in Africa: we speak of the West African strain and that of the Congo Basin, the latter being much more deadly than its cousin. Or, 84% of new homes were detected this year in Europe and 12% in the Americas. Changing the name will make it possible to take into account the current reality of the disease, while some thirty scientists, many of whom are from Africa, have called for early June “a nomenclature that is neither discriminatory nor stigmatizing.” .
“Frankly not a monkey disease”
The name “monkey smallpox” itself is misleading. The current outbreak is due to a source that is easily transmitted from being human to the other, when the Africans came to the majority of a contamination with an animal. Above all, even at the beginning, “this is frankly not a monkey-related disease,” notes virologist Oyewale Tomori. This name is the legacy of the conditions for the discovery of the disease, in the 1950s: Danish researchers had discovered it in monkeys in their laboratory. But in real life, it is usually caught by rodents.
Alongside this deceptive side, there are, again, concerns about the stigmatizing nature of such a name. “Monkeys are usually associated with countries in the South, especially Africa,” said Moses John Bockarie, a researcher at The Conversation. These concerns are part of a broader context in which Africa has frequently been targeted as the root cause of diseases that have spread around the world. “It was mostly seen with AIDS in the 1980s, Ebola during the 2013 epidemic, and then with Covid and the so-called ‘South African variants,'” epidemiologist Oliver Restif told AFP.
In what capacity, the image and importance of the son. Oliver Restif regrets that the media has often chosen unfortunate illustrations for their articles on monkeypox. These are often “old photographs of African patients”, while the current cases “are much less serious”, he notes.