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NYC Health Dept. demands monkeypox be renamed to avoid 'racism' and 'stigma': 'Painful and racist history'

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KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images

New York City is demanding the World Health Organization rename the "monkeypox" virus because of "devastating and stigmatizing effects" of the name.

What is the background?

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced last month his organization would change the name of "monkeypox" over concerns the label is racist.

However, six weeks later, the WHO has not followed through with the name change.

What is NYC saying?

NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan urged Tedros to promptly act on that promise and stop using the "monkeypox" nomenclature.

"NYC joins many public health experts and community leaders who have expressed their serious concern about continuing to exclusively use the term 'monkeypox' given the stigma it may engender, and the painful and racist history within which terminology like this is rooted for communities of color," Vasan wrote in a letter.

In fact, Vasan claimed "misinformation" about monkeypox is harming black people and LGBT people.

[E]arly misinformation about the virus led people to believe that it was spread to humans after people in Africa engaged in sexual activity with monkeys. This kind of false messaging created incalculable harm and stigma for decades to come.

Continuing to use the term “monkeypox” to describe the current outbreak may reignite these traumatic feelings of racism and stigma — particularly for Black people and other people of color, as well as members of the LGBTQIA+ communities, and it is possible that they may avoid engaging in vital health care services because of it.

Instead of "monkeypox," Vasan suggested the WHO use more formal designations such as "hMPXV" or "MPV."

If the WHO and other health organizations do not alter their language, Vasan claimed people who contract monkeypox — a virus primarily spreading in gay communities — will face violence like Asian people did in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The WHO must act in this moment before it is too late," Vasan warned.

Anything else?

Despite a barrage of media headlines warning monkeypox could become the next pandemic, there have been fewer than 20,000 confirmed cases of the virus across the globe.

In the U.S., fewer than 4,000 cases have been confirmed.

Still, the WHO has declared monkeypox an international global health emergency.

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