WHO renames monkeypox over ‘racist and stigmatizing language’

World Health Organization consulted with experts, countries and the public before making its decision

The World Health Organization announced Monday it will begin using “mpox” as the preferred term for monkeypox because of “racist and stigmatizing language online, in other settings and in some communities.”

The decision was made after meetings with world leaders who expressed concern for this language and requested a name change. WHO consulted with experts, countries and the public before making its decision.

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Based on those meetings, the organization announced, it now recommends:

  • Adoption of the new synonym mpox in English for the disease.
  • Mpox will become a preferred term, replacing monkeypox, after a transition period of one year. This serves to mitigate the concerns raised by experts about confusion caused by a name change in the midst of a global outbreak. It also gives time to complete the International Health Related Classifications update process and to update WHO publications.
  • Mpox will be included in the ICD-10 online soon. It will be a part of the official 2023 release of ICD-11, which is the current global standard for health data, clinical documentation and statistical aggregation.
  • The term “monkeypox” will remain a searchable term in ICD, to match historic information.

Updating a name usually takes years, WHO wrote, but the process was accelerated in this instance.

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The disease was first called human monkeypox in 1970 after the virus that causes it was found in captive monkeys in 1958. That was nearly 50 years before WHO adopted its best practices in naming diseases.

Those practices state “new disease names should be given with the aim to minimize unnecessary negative impact of names on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare, and avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”

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