WHO renames monkeypox as ‘mpox’

This image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) shows a colorized transmission electron micrograph of monkeypox particles (red) found within an infected cell (blue), cultured in the laboratory that was captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Md. (NIAID via AP)

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday said it is renaming “monkeypox” as “mpox” amid concerns that the name may be considered racist and might not accurately describe the origin of the virus.

The two terms will be used simultaneously for one year while “monkeypox” is phased out, WHO said in a statement. The agency over the summer said it would consider suggestions for a name change. 

“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 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,” WHO said.

Assigning names to existing diseases is rare, but it is the responsibility of WHO under the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Usually, the ICD updating process takes up to several years, but the WHO said the process was accelerated in this case.

LGBTQ activists, scientists and public health experts have been calling for the name change since the U.S. outbreak began earlier this year.  They argue the name plays into racist stereotypes about Africa and hampers the global response.

Cases of the disease have more often been found in Central and Western African countries, leading many Western nations to pay little attention to it, but a monkeypox outbreak earlier this year in Europe and the United States pushed the disease to the forefront.

The U.S. outbreak began spreading rapidly across the country in May, catching administration health officials by surprise and resulting in a scramble to bring infections under control. 

A group of scientists wrote a joint statement to the WHO in June urging it to rename monkeypox, calling the name “discriminatory and stigmatizing.”

Human monkeypox was given its name in 1970, after the virus that causes the disease was discovered in captive monkeys in 1958. 

In a statement, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra applauded the decision and said federal public health agencies will adopt the mpox name “in correspondence with the medical community and American public from this point forward.”

“We welcome the change by the World Health Organization. We must do all we can to break down barriers to public health, and reducing stigma associated with disease is one critical step in our work to end mpox,” Becerra said.

Tags monkeypox World Health Organization
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