Monkeypox Is Officially Given A New Name From WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday, November 28, 2022, that the monkeypox virus will be renamed "mpox." According to the global health agency, both names will be used interchangeably for approximately one year while the term, monkeypox, is gradually eliminated. This name change follows a months-long discussion about the appropriateness of using the word "monkey" to describe the disease, prompted by the recent outbreak of mpox in the U.S. (via Live Science).

While we may rarely notice any renaming of viruses and diseases, experts say that monkeypox is both an inaccurate and offensive term to describe the virus. Despite the name, mpox did not originate from monkeys. In fact, the exact origin of the virus is still unknown. Additionally, the WHO says that the name monkeypox evokes racist stereotypes and stigmatizes patients who have been infected with the disease, citing an increase in "racist and stigmatizing language online" within the past year.

Mpox is a more accurate and less stigmatizing name for the virus

The word "monkeypox" reinforces offensive tropes about Africa being a hotbed of disease and plays into racist stereotypes against Black people, which are rooted in American racial terminology, according to experts at the New York Times. As a result, a group of more than a dozen scientists signed an open letter over the summer calling for the virus to be renamed, arguing that the stigmatizing and discriminatory nomenclature would hinder efforts to contain the spread of the disease.

"Names matter, and so does scientific accuracy, especially for pathogens and epidemics that we are trying to control," Tulio de Oliveira, a bioinformatician at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, told the New York Times. Mpox, on the other hand, accurately describes the physical nature of the virus without using racist and stigmatizing language (via NPR). Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor, a global health equity advocate and senior New Voices fellow at the Aspen Institute, told NPR that eliminating "monkey" from the name of the virus helps eradicate "the stigma that monkeypox comes with" and combats misinformation about how the virus is transmitted from animals to humans.