WHO Renames Monkeypox to mpox Amid Racism Concerns

WHO announced that 'mpox' is now the preferred name for monkeypox.

The World Health Organisation has changed the name of monkeypox to mpox, citing concerns that the original name of the decades-old animal disease could be interpreted as discriminatory and racist.

The UN health agency said in a statement on Monday that mpox was the new preferred name for monkeypox, saying both monkeypox and mpox would be used next year while the old name would be phased out.

The WHO said it was concerned by “racist and stigmatising language” that had emerged after monkeypox spread to more than 100 countries. It said many individuals and countries had asked the group “to come up with a way to change the name.”

In August, shortly after the United Nations agency declared the spread of monkeypox a global emergency, the World Health Organisation began consulting experts on renaming the disease.

To date, more than 80,000 cases have been detected in dozens of countries where smallpox-related illness has not been previously reported. Monkeypox, a disease thought to have originated in animals, was not known to cause large outbreaks outside central and west Africa until May.

Outside Africa, almost all cases occur among gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men. Scientists believe monkeypox sparked outbreaks in Western countries after it was sexually transmitted during two binges in Belgium and Spain. Vaccination efforts in rich countries and targeted control interventions have contained mainly the disease after it peaked in the summer.

In Africa, the disease mainly affects people who encounter infected animals, such as rodents and squirrels. Most monkeypox-related deaths occur in Africa, where few vaccines are available.

US health officials have warned that eradicating the disease may not be possible there, warning that it could pose a persistent threat primarily to gay and bisexual men for years to come.

Mpox was first named monkeypox in 1958 when research monkeys in Denmark were found to have a “pox-like” disease, although they were not thought to be the animal reservoir of the disease.

Although the WHO named many new diseases shortly after they emerged, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and COVID-19, this appears to be the agency’s first attempt at renaming decades after the first disease.

Many other diseases, including Japanese encephalitis, German measles, Marburg virus and MERS, are named after geographic areas that may now be considered harmful. WHO has not recommended changing any of these names.

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