WHO renames monkeypox as ‘mpox,’ citing racism and discrimination concerns
The World Health Organization has renamed monkeypox as “mpox,” citing concerns that the original name of the decades-old disease could be construed as discriminatory and racist.
The United Nations health agency said in a statement Monday that mpox was its new preferred name for monkeypox, saying that both terms would be used for the next year while the old name is phased out.
The WHO said it was concerned by the “racist and stigmatizing language” that arose after monkeypox spread to more than 100 countries. It said numerous individuals and countries asked the organization “to propose a way forward to change the name.”
In August, the WHO began consulting experts about renaming the disease, shortly after the agency declared its spread to be a global emergency.
To date, there have been more than 80,000 cases identified in dozens of countries that had not previously reported the smallpox-related disease. Until May, monkeypox, a disease that is thought to originate in animals, was not known to trigger large outbreaks beyond central and west Africa.
Outside of Africa, nearly all cases have been in gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men. Scientists believe the disease spread in Western countries via sexual contact between attendees of two raves in Belgium and Spain. Vaccination efforts in rich countries, along with targeted control interventions, have mostly brought the disease under control after it peaked in the summer.
Experts around the world have pledged to change the disease’s name to something that doesn’t carry the weight of stigma. But tossing out the old term is easier than deciding on a new one.
In Africa, the disease mainly affects people in contact with infected animals such as rodents and squirrels. The majority of monkeypox-related deaths have been in Africa, where there have been almost no vaccines available.
U.S. health officials have warned it may be impossible to eliminate the disease there, saying it could be a continuing threat mainly for gay and bisexual men for years to come.
Mpox was first named monkeypox in 1958 when research monkeys in Denmark were observed to have a “pox-like” disease, although they are not thought to be the disease’s animal reservoir.
Although the WHO has named numerous new diseases shortly after they emerged, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS and COVID-19, this appears to be the first time the agency has attempted to rechristen a disease decades after it was first named.
Numerous other diseases, including Japanese encephalitis, German measles, Marburg virus and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome have been named after geographic regions, which could now be considered prejudicial. The WHO has not suggested changing any of those names.
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