By Peter Kenny
GENEVA (AA) - The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday announced a new term, "mpox," as a preferred synonym for monkeypox to avoid the "racist and stigmatizing language" associated with the disease's old name.
"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," the UN body said in a statement, noting that the decision was made after consultations with global experts.
Mpox will be adopted as the preferred term, replacing monkeypox, after a year-long transition period, it said, adding that this would ease concerns raised by experts about the confusion that the name change may cause during a global outbreak.
In several meetings, public and private, individuals and countries raised concerns and asked WHO to propose a way forward to change the name.
The WHO said that assigning names to new and, very exceptionally, to existing diseases is its responsibility under International Classification of Diseases (ICD) practices.
Also responsible for disease naming is the WHO Family of International Health-Related Classifications system through a consultative process that includes WHO member states.
Human monkeypox was given its name in 1970 after the virus that causes the disease was discovered in captive monkeys in 1958, decades before the WHO's best practices on naming diseases were published in 2015.
Considerations in the guidelines include rational, scientific appropriateness, current usage, pronounceability, usability in different languages, absence of geographical or zoological references, and the ease of retrieval of historical, scientific information, said the WHO.
The new term mpox can be used in various languages.
If additional naming issues arise, these will be addressed via the same mechanism, the world health agency said.
The "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 the adoption of the new name," it added.