The World Health Organization (WHO) plans to rename monkeypox “MPOX” in an effort to de-stigmatise the virus. Politico reported on November 22, citing sources that the decision is expected to be made public as soon as on November 23.

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According to the US newspaper, the decision to rename the viral disease came as a result of growing pressure from senior US officials who privately urged WHO leaders to change the name. The WHO announced in August that a group of global experts had agreed on new names for monkeypox virus variants. It had stated that “the experts agreed to name the clades using Roman numerals.”

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Why is it named monkeypox?

The monkeypox virus was named after its discovery in 1958. This was before the process of naming diseases and viruses became widespread. “Major variants were identified by the geographic regions where they were known to circulate,” according to the WHO. Monkeypox got its name because the virus was discovered in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958. 

The disease was first discovered in humans in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970, with human spread since then primarily limited to certain West and Central African countries where it is endemic. However, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscle aches, and large boil-like skin lesions, began spreading rapidly around the world in May, 2022, primarily among men who have sex with men.

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The current “best practice” is to name newly discovered viruses, related diseases, and virus variants with the goal of “the aim to avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups, and minimise any negative impact on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare.”

Why does WHO want to rename it now?

Experts warn that the name may be stigmatizing to the primates it was named after, but who play little role in its spread, as well as to the African continent with which the animals are frequently associated, according to AFP. For example, there have recently been reported cases of people attacking monkeys due to disease fears in Brazil.

The term “monkeypox,” according to public health researchers and critics, evokes racial stereotypes about Black people, Africans, and LGBTQ people. The term incorrectly implies that monkeys are the virus’s primary source. “It is discriminatory and stigmatizing,” according to some scientists quoted in the report.

The International Committee on Virus Taxonomy (ICTV) is in charge of naming viruses. The WHO announced in early November that the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee had determined that monkeypox should remain classified as a global health emergency.