WHO renames monkeypox to 'mpox' to avoid racist connotations

"Following a series of consultations with global experts, WHO will begin using a new preferred term 'mpox' as a synonym for monkeypox," WHO said in a statement released Monday.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday that it will no longer be using the name "monkeypox" due to complaints over the "racist and stigmatizing language" of the name.

"Following a series of consultations with global experts, WHO will begin using a new preferred term 'mpox' as a synonym for monkeypox," the WHO said in a statement released Monday. "Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while 'monkeypox' is phased out."

In 2015, WHO published the "best practices for the naming of new human diseases," which stated that new disease names should be given "with the aim to minimize unnecessary negative impact of disease names on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare, and avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups."

WHO had already announced in June that it would be renaming the virus, following a joint statement from over 30 scientists saying that there was an "urgent need for a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatizing nomenclature for the monkeypox virus."

The Biden administration had already privately urged officials to change the name as soon as possible as it was felt that the current name was hampering its vaccination campaign. 

A WHO spokesperson didn't give specifics regarding the impetus for the name change, but did state that "a number of individuals and countries" were concerned about its current name.

"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 released on Monday. "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."

Prior to the 2022 global monkeypox outbreak, the WHO were already in the process of reconsidering the names of all orthopoxvirus species, including monkeypox virus.

The virus was first discovered in captive monkeys in 1958. It was observed in humans for the first time in 1970, leading to its current name. Until recently, the disease was mostly confined to Central and Western Africa.

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