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NYC health commissioner pushes WHO to change monkeypox name to avoid stigmatization of LGBTQIA+ community

The growing spread is increasing concern about stigmatizing the Monkeypox virus and its negative repercussions on marginalized communities.

NEW YORK — The New York City Health Commissioner, Ashwin Vasan, called on Tuesday for the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General to change the name of the monkeypox virus immediately through a letter that was posted on social media. 

On June 15, WHO said they were working with partners and experts to change the name. Yet, nothing changed, which is why Vasan created the letter. 

"Unfortunately, once again, New York City (NYC) finds itself at the epicenter of a contagious disease that is affecting the fabric of our communities," Vasan wrote in the letter. "We have a growing concern for the potentially devastating and stigmatizing effects that the messaging around the 'monkeypox' virus can have on these already vulnerable communities. Therefore, I write to urge you to act immediately on renaming the 'monkeypox' virus."

RELATED: Health experts and LGBTQ+ activists raise awareness for monkeypox

The growing spread is increasing concern about stigmatizing the monkeypox virus and its negative repercussions on marginalized communities. As experts learn more about the virus, the name brings up concerns in more ways than one. Health officials, medical professionals, and community advocates explained the monkeypox name is insensitive. 

"Whenever we have infectious diseases, we have an epidemic of stigma," explained Dr. Javeed Sukhera, Chief of Psychiatry at Hartford Hospital

When the AIDS epidemic began,  it led to the negative stigma of the LGBTQ community. And throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there were increased hate crimes against the AAPI community because of the stigma and racist names related to the virus. However, the goal of health officials is to ensure the same doesn't happen with the monkeypox virus. 

"It's really important that our framing and understanding of the virus minimize harm and address the negative stigma that may be associated with the conversation," said Dr. Sukhera.

Vasan letter echoed Dr. Sukhera, "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."

Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective shared a statement with FOX61 that read "People hear the word' monkeypox,' and often enough, the reaction is 'is this a joke?' monkeypox is no joke. Changing the name can go a long way in developing informative public health messages."

Medical professionals agreed.

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"It would be great to just have a generic name like poxvirus variant or orthopox virus variant, so it doesn't have any of the implications that it currently has," explained infectious disease specialist Dr. Ken Abriola.

And until change happens, the letter  Vasan letter to WHO ends with a strong message that said, "The WHO must act at this moment before it is too late."

RELATED: Monkeypox cases in Connecticut rise to 15

"We all have a responsibility to not just stop the spread of the viruses but also to stop the spread of blaming, shaming stigma, and hateful messaging that goes counter to what we know scientifically about diseases," explained Dr. Sukhera 

Currently, cases are predominantly spreading among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. But, infectious disease specialists stressed that anyone is susceptible to the virus. 

Raquel Harrington is the race and culture reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at rharrington@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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