WHO renames monkeypox MPOX, citing racial stigma

Monkeypox now has a new name: mpox. The World Health Organization announced the long-awaited change on Monday, saying the disease’s original name plays in “racist and stigmatizing language”.

But it will take time to replace a term that has been used for decades. The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970. The virus was first detected years earlier in captive monkeys.

“Both names will be used concurrently for a year while ‘monkeypox’ is phased out,” WHO said.

The announcement resonated with Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor, a global health justice advocate and Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute, who supported the name change, met with mixed reactions.

“Mpox is better than monkeypox because it still contains ‘pox,’ which speaks to the physical nature of the disease,” Nsofor told NPR Monday. “Removing ‘monkeys’ removes the stigma associated with monkeypox and addresses potential misinformation” about how it’s transmitted, he added, as it could falsely suggest that monkeys are the primary source of transmission of the virus are on people.

But Nsofor questioned the WHO’s decision not to eradicate the monkeypox name immediately. The agency says the year-long delay allows time for numerous publications and records to be updated. It also said the delay will allay experts’ concerns about possible confusion over renaming a disease currently causing an outbreak.

Nsofor warns that using both names at the same time does not bring clarity. “It’s confusing and perpetuates everything bad with the name monkeypox,” he said.

The monkeypox outbreak brought waves of stigma

The international monkeypox outbreak has dramatically increased the profile of the disease in Europe and the US, affecting more than 100 countries in total. And as the disease has spread, public health experts say, the use of discriminatory language and images online has also spread.

Critics say the name “monkeypox” plays on racial stereotypes about blacks and Africans and has been used alongside anti-gay slurs. They notice that too Rodents, not monkeys, are the main source of the virus.

International journalists in Kenya in May shouted US and European media for repeatedly using images of black people to illustrate stories about monkeypox – despite the rapid growth of the outbreak in Europe and the US.

Over the summer, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasa sent a letter to WHO’s Tedros urging him to act quickly to rename monkeypox, citing “potentially devastating and stigmatizing effects”.

A name change that is not a full name change

The change removes months of doubt about when — or if — it could happen.

But while the new name applies to the disease, it doesn’t automatically extend to the virus behind the disease. While the WHO names diseases, the formal scientific names of viruses are determined by another organization: the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses.

WHO says ICTV was involved in a process to consider renaming “all orthopoxvirus species, including monkeypox virus,” adding that the process is ongoing.

Reached by NPR on Monday, ICTV Data Secretary Elliot Lefkowitz said the group had “not had any recent discussions about renaming the virus species, monkeypox virus,” or using an alternative name.

Earlier this year, Lefkowitz said that even if ICTV gives the virus a new formal name, the term ‘monkey’ could stick, stating: “The consensus is that the use of the name ‘monkey’ is sufficiently disparate from any pejorative.” Context like this is separate There is no reason for a change.”

Lefkowitz also said he agrees with WHO’s executive director for health emergencies, Mike Ryan – who has said that in the face of an outbreak, the key concern is not the name of the disease, but the risk that people with ill intentions will “gun” any make”. Expression.

“Regardless of what names we use, if people are determined to abuse and weaponize names to isolate, discriminate or stigmatize people, then that will always be the case,” Ryan said in July.

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