John Ely, Daily Mail, November 28, 2022
Monkeypox will be renamed ‘mpox’, health chiefs confirmed today after a push to find a ‘non-discriminatory’ term.
World Health Organization (WHO) officials promised to create a new name for the disease this summer after a global surge of cases.
Before then, cases of the rash-causing virus were generally confined to countries in Africa. Outbreaks elsewhere were imported, sporadic and contained quickly.
But the wave earlier this year, which has yet to die out, sparked concerns because it spread naturally between people in dozens of countries, including the UK.
Experts found the virus was spreading predominantly among gay and bisexual men.
Increased attention surrounding monkeypox sparked calls among some experts to change its name over concerns it was discriminatory.
Campaigners claimed it was racist because of the ‘long history of referring to black people as monkeys’.
Groups also accused Western outlets of perpetuating ‘negative stereotypes that assigns calamity to the African race and privilege of immunity to other races’ through using images of affected black people in stories.
Earlier this month, reports emerged that senior US officials had privately lobbied the WHO to rename monkeypox as mpox over the same discrimination fears.
Officials also said the name ‘monkeypox’ was putting some Americans off being vaccinated.
Monkeypox was named in 1958 after it was identified in monkeys imported to Europe from Africa, and divided into West African and Central African variants.
In the decades since then, the WHO has recommended against naming viruses based on locations because of concerns it may spark abusive backlash or potential racism to people from those areas.
In announcing its decision to rename monkeypox to mpox, the WHO said both names will be used officially for one year before the old term is phased out completely.
It said the delay was to allay concerns from scientists who feared changing the name during a global outbreak could spark confusion among the public.
The WHO said as the monkeypox outbreak grew this year they were alerted to ‘racist and stigmatizing language online, in other settings and in some communities’.
Several individuals and representatives of countries also raised concerns and asked the WHO to change the name in both ‘public and private’, the body added.
Updating a virus’s name usually take several years, as scientists debate the merit and need for any change, under a system called the International Classification of Diseases.
But the WHO’s backing was able to accelerate this process.
The complete rename follows a WHO decision in August to rename Central African and West African clades of the monkeypox virus to Clade 1 and Clade 2.
It is not known if the UK health authorities and academics will follow the WHO’s decision.
This is not the first time in recent history that the issue of racism and discrimination has been raised when it comes to naming viruses.
Back in 2020 then US President Donald Trump started referring to Covid as the China or Wuhan virus shortly after it began spreading internationally.
Mr Trump’s comments were criticised for potentially inciting violence or discrimination to people of Chinese or Asian heritage.
Some 3,720 cases of monkeypox have been identified in the UK since the start of May.
The UK Health Security Agency has said it is seeing fewer and fewer cases reported.
NHS England said some 68,000 people have been inoculated against the disease with the smallpox vaccine since the outbreak began in May.
It is now launching a campaign offering a second vaccination to those eligible who have already had their first jab.
Common signs of infection include the development of a new rash, fever, headache, muscle aches, exhaustion, and swollen lymph nodes.