WHO rebrands Monkeypox amid complaints of racism, discrimination

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News


The World Health Organization announced on Monday the renaming of monkeypox to “mpox.”  

The United Nations health agency said in a press release that it would take steps to phase out the decades-old name of the viral zoonotic disease over concerns about the “racist and stigmatizing language” expressed by “a number of individuals and countries.” 

“Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while ‘monkeypox’ is phased out,” the WHO said, citing the need to avoid confusion and to give the International Classification of Diseases time to update all publications. The WHO said that it had “accelerated” this process, which typically takes several years to accomplish.

The WHO launched a public consultation process in August to come up with a new name for the disease, which garnered around 200 proposals, shortly after the U.N. declared monkeypox as a global health emergency. The Biden administration designated monkeypox as a public health emergency on Aug. 4. 

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said that the agency will also begin using the term “mpox.” 

“We welcome and support the renaming to mpox to reduce stigma and barriers to care for those most impacted,” Walensky said in a tweet.

The smallpox-like disease was first discovered in 1958 in a colony of monkeys used for research, according to the CDC, hence the name. The first human infection occurred in 1970. Until the 2022 outbreak, occurrences of monkeypox infections in humans were limited to central and western Africa and linked to contact with rats and other rodents. Outside of Africa, nearly all reported human cases have been transmitted through homosexual male sex. 

Scientists have traced the 2022 outbreak to two raves in Belgium and Spain where it was spread via unprotected sex.

The Associated Press noted that the monkeypox rebrand is the first time the WHO has attempted to rename a disease “decades after it was first named.” The news service also suggested that other diseases named after geographic regions could now be considered discriminatory, including German measles and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, among others.