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WHO renames monkeypox over racism, stigma concerns

The World Health Organization announced Monday that it will begin referring to monkeypox as “mpox” due to complaints of “racist and stigmatizing language” over its current name.

“Following a series of consultations with global experts, WHO will begin using a new preferred term ‘mpox’ as a synonym for monkeypox,” the Geneva-based WHO said in a release.

“Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while ‘monkeypox’ is phased out,” the UN health agency added.

The move was announced after Politico reported on Tuesday that the WHO planned to destigmatize the decades-old viral animal disease that began spreading in the US.

Senior officials in the Biden administration had privately urged officials at the agency to change the name – and suggested that the US would act unilaterally if it didn’t move fast enough, according to the news outlet.

Monkeypox patient with lesions on limbs
Microscope view of the monkeypox virus

The White House was concerned that the term monkeypox was hampering its vaccination campaign by engendering stigma, particularly among people of color, Politico reported.

“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,” a group of scientists wrote in a joint statement earlier this year.

A WHO spokesperson declined to give specifics on the impetus for the name change, only that “a number of individuals and countries” had raised concerns and asked the agency to propose a way forward.

“When the outbreak of monkeypox expanded earlier this year, racist and stigmatizing language online, in other settings and in some communities was observed and reported to WHO,” the agency said in a statement.

”In several meetings, public and private, a number of individuals and countries raised concerns and asked WHO to propose a way forward to change the name,” it said.

The director of the Canadian gay and lesbian health organization RÉZO, which also suggested the term “mpox,” has said that the removal of monkey imagery helped people take the health emergency seriously.

Monkeypox vaccine dose

Among the more outlandish ideas for a new name was “Poxy McPoxface” — in reference to Boaty McBoatface, the popular choice for a public vote to name a British polar research vessel, which went on to be named after veteran BBC naturalist David Attenborough.

Multiple other diseases — including Japanese encephalitis, German measles, Marburg virus and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome — were named after geographic regions, which could now be considered prejudicial.

But WHO has not suggested changing any of those names.

Monkeypox, which was discovered in 1958 and named after the first animal to show symptoms, mostly spread in several African countries until this year.

About 100 countries where mpox is not endemic have reported outbreaks of the illness. More than 80,000 cases have been reported.

Outside of Africa, almost all of the cases have been in gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men.  

With Post Wires