The World Health Organization is planning to hold an emergency meeting next week on what Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus calls the “unusual and concerning” worldwide outbreak of monkeypox.
The organization plans to look into whether the outbreak should be declared a “public health emergency of international concern,” as COVID-19 was, the BBC reports. The WHO says it is also working on coming up with a new name for the virus and the disease it causes after scientists said a “non-discriminatory and non-stigmatising” name was urgently needed.
The WHO says it is consulting experts in orthopoxviruses to find a more suitable name. One name that has been suggested is hMPXV, the BBC reports.
The disease was once little known outside African countries where it is endemic, but Tedros said more than 1,600 confirmed cases have been reported this year in 39 countries, along with almost 1,500 suspected cases, the AP reports.
The virus was named monkeypox because it was first detected in laboratory monkeys but rodents are believed to be the main animal host.
In a letter released last week, a group of scientists said the name monkeypox and references to an African origin violated WHO guidelines that recommend against using geographic names or animal names, Bloomberg reports. “In the context of the current global outbreak, continued reference to, and nomenclature of this virus being African is not only inaccurate but is also discriminatory and stigmatizing,” they wrote.
The scientists also noted that while most cases in the recent outbreak have been in Europe and North America, news organizations tend to use photos of African patients.