Monkeypox officially renamed as mpox to combat stigma and discrimination

The World Health Organization has said that the old name will be phased out over the next year.

A scientist holds tray of samples in article about how monkeypox is now called mpox.
Image: Photo by CDC on Unsplash

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that monkeypox will now be referred to as ‘mpox’ following criticisms of the prior name’s origins. Both names will be used interchangeably over the next year, but mpox will be the preferred term.

In a statement shared on Monday, November 28, WHO explained why the former name is being phased out. “When the outbreak of monkeypox expanded earlier this year, racist and stigmatising language online, in other settings and in some communities was observed and reported to WHO. 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.”

In 2022, WHO identified monkeypox as a public health emergency when 53,000 cases were detected in 75 countries. The recent global outbreak was not linked to Africa, but some reporting reinforced homophobic and racist stereotypes with early misinformation leading some people to assume that the disease was linked to Africa and sexual activity with monkeys.

Several communities raised concerns about the name this year, and in June, a group of scientists published a statement proposing a name change. The letter pointed to examples when the name exacerbated stigmas and it referenced discriminatory examples of Western media using images of Black people when covering news of the virus. WHO hopes the name change will help minimise the negative impact of the former name on marginalised communities.

Some individuals have raised concerns about the potential confusion of changing the name to mpox during a global outbreak, but ‘monkeypox’ will remain a searchable term in the International Classification of Diseases to match historic information.

In 2015, WHO published best practices in naming diseases and viruses to help consider cultural, social, and ethnic sensitivities. Prior to the current outbreak, a process was already underway to update the names for orthopoxvirus species including monkeypox, buffalopox and cowpox.

The virus was first named ‘monkeypox’ in 1970 after the disease was discovered in captive monkeys in 1958. At that time, monkeys in a Danish laboratory were observed to have a ‘pox-like’ disease.

WHO will use mpox in its future communications and is encouraging other health organisations to do the same. For more information on the current mpox outbreak in Ireland, visit MPOWER’s dedicated webpage which includes a free video counselling service for people impacted by the mpox outbreak.

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