Special to The Dallas Examiner
GENEVA – Following a series of consultations with global experts, World Health Organization will begin using a new preferred term “mpox” as a synonym for monkeypox. On Monday, the organization announced that both names will be used simultaneously for one year while “monkeypox” is phased out.
The change was adopted due to concerns of stigma surrounding the viral disease. When the outbreak of monkeypox expanded earlier this year, racist and stigmatizing 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.
The Biden Harris administration was quick to support the renaming to mpox.
“We welcome the change by the World Health Organization. We must do all we can to break down barriers to public health, and reducing stigma associated with disease is one critical step in our work to end mpox,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said.
In response to today’s action by the WHO, federal public health agencies will adopt the mpox name in correspondence with the medical community and American public from this point forward. This change from the WHO can help enhance the U.S. response to mpox by using a term that does not conjure bias or stigma and will aid efforts to reach the most impacted communities with a term for the disease that doesn’t act to marginalize individuals from accessing the care, resources and support they need to protect themselves and others, according to HHS.
Human monkeypox was given its name in 1958, before the publication of WHO’s best practices in naming diseases was published in 2015. According to the WHO’s best practices, 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, HHS representatives further stated.
Assigning names to new and, very exceptionally, to existing diseases is the responsibility of WHO under the International Classification of Diseases – known as ICD – and the WHO Family of International Health Related Classifications through a consultative process which includes WHO member states.
WHO, in accordance with the ICD update process, held consultations to gather views from a range of experts, as well as countries and the general public, who were invited to submit suggestions for new names. Based on these consultations, and further discussions with WHO’s Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO recommended the following:
- 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 ICD update process and to update WHO publications.
- The synonym mpox will be included in the ICD-10 online in the coming days. 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.
Considerations for the recommendations included rationale, scientific appropriateness, extent of current usage, pronounceability, usability in different languages, absence of geographical or zoological references, and the ease of retrieval of historical scientific information.
Usually, the ICD updating process can take up to several years. In this case, the process was accelerated, though following the standard steps.
Various advisory bodies were heard during the consultation process, including experts from the medical and scientific and classification and statistics advisory committees which constituted of representatives from government authorities of 45 different countries.
The issue of the use of the new name in different languages was extensively discussed. The preferred term mpox can be used in other languages. If additional naming issues arise, these will be addressed via the same mechanism. Translations are usually discussed in formal collaboration with relevant government authorities and the related scientific societies.
WHO will adopt the term mpox in its communications, and encourages others to follow these recommendations, to minimize any ongoing negative impact of the current name and from adoption of the new name.