The World Health Organization, or WHO, will officially begin using the term “mpox” instead of “monkeypox” after the Biden Administration pressured the international organization to change the name because of racial connotations associated with it.
On the international organization’s website, it says both names will be used simultaneously for a year until “monkeypox” is phased out.
“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 organization said in a press release. “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 WHO is tasked with assigning names to diseases, whether new or existing. Through consultations with experts, countries, and the public, the WHO recommended that mpox be adopted as the new term in English for the disease, will become the preferred term after one year, and that “monkeypox” will remain as a searchable term for historical information.
Last week, the WHO announced it was set to change the name of “monkeypox” to “mpox” after senior Biden officials urged the WHO to make the change. The administration even reportedly threatened to adopt new terminology without the WHO’s approval.
According to the report, the Biden administration believed the name “monkeypox” carries an unnecessary stigma for people of color.
After the WHO’s announcement of the name change on Monday, the Biden Harris Administration announced its support for the change.
“We welcome the change by the World Health Organization,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “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.”
In the same release, the administration said Human monkeypox first got its name in 1970, before the WHO published its best practices when naming diseases in 2015.
The best practices for naming new diseases should “minimize unnecessary negative impact of names on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare, and avoid causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”
The monkeypox outbreak is a global health emergency and the WHO has given it the highest level of alert.
The U.S. has seen 29,200 cases of monkeypox within its borders.