29th November, 2022
By Cecilia Ologunagba
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended “mpox” as the new name for Moneypox in the wake of reports of racist and stigmatising language surrounding the name of the disease.
This decision followed a series of consultations with global experts.
Both terms will be used simultaneously for a year before the monkeypox name is phased out.
In a released statement, WHO said “This serves to mitigate the concerns raised by experts about the confusion caused by a name change during a global outbreak,”.
Mpox is a rare viral disease that primarily occurs in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa, but outbreaks emerged in other parts of the world this year.
There have been more than 80,000 cases, and 55 deaths, with 110 countries affected.
When the current outbreak expanded, WHO both observed and received reports of racist and stigmatising language online, in other settings and some communities.
“In several meetings, public and private, several individuals and countries raised concerns and asked WHO to propose a way forward to change the name,” the agency said.
The monkeypox name was given in 1970, some 12 years after the virus that causes the disease was discovered in captive monkeys.
This was before the WHO first published best practices on naming diseases in 2015.
These guidelines recommend that new disease names should aim to minimise unnecessary negative impacts on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare.
They should also avoid offending any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.
WHO assigns names to new and, very exceptionally, existing diseases, through a consultative process.
Medical and scientific experts, representatives from government authorities from 45 countries, as well as the general public, were invited to submit their suggestions.
Based on the consultations, and further discussions with WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, the agency has recommended the adoption of the mpox synonym.
Considerations included rationale, scientific appropriateness, the extent of current usage, pronounceability, usability in different languages, absence of geographical or zoological references, and the ease of retrieval of historical scientific information.
WHO will adopt the term mpox in its communications, and encourages others to follow suit.
The disease was called monkeypox because it was first discovered in monkeys in 1958.
However, monkeys had nothing to do with the outbreaks this year. Rather, humans became infected through close physical contact with other humans.
Nevertheless, monkeys were attacked this year in Brazil, for example, because humans held them responsible for the outbreaks.
According to WHO guidelines, disease names should avoid references to specific countries, regions or animals.
In addition, the name should be easy to pronounce.