Monkeypox Renamed Mpox by Global Health Body to Avoid Stigma

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Mpox was decided on after lengthy discussions between experts, countries, and the general public. The old term will be used alongside the new one for a year before being phased out

Monkeypox will now be known as “Mpox” the World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced, after complaints over racist and stigmatising language linked to the virus’s name.

In June, the WHO announced its intention to rename the disease after concerns were raised that its original name is misleading, stigmatising, and discriminatory. In August, a crowd-sourcing effort to find a new name was announced.

Mpox was decided on after lengthy discussions between experts, countries, and the general public, and now the WHO has revealed that the reference to non-human primates is to be dropped.

The old term will be used alongside the new one for a year before being phased out, the UN health agency said in a statement. “This serves to mitigate the concerns raised by experts about the confusion caused by a name change in the midst of a global outbreak.”

The WHO added that a key issue in choosing the new name was its usability in different languages, while scientific appropriateness, pronounceability, and absence of geographical or zoological references were among the other considerations.

Human monkeypox was first identified in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and its name was given after the disease caused by the virus was discovered in captive monkeys in 1958. Though the disease is commonly found in rodents, its natural reservoir is unknown.

Experts have raised concerns over the way outbreaks are covered by the media and how different strains of the virus are named by reference to various parts of Africa.

“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 stigmatising,” they wrote in June.

Mpox has made headlines in recent months after an unprecedented global outbreak began in May, largely among men who have sex with men. Up to November 21, the UK alone recorded 3,720 confirmed or probable cases, compared with seven between 2018 and 2021.

Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia welcomed the move by the WHO. “Given that monkeys are not a primary source of the virus the new name is less confusing for people who do not know the background to this infection,” he said.

“It is however a shame that one of the driving forces for making this change now has been the ‘racist and stigmatising language’ used online. Hopefully, such language will now stop.”