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Monkeypox Officially Renamed to Avoid Racial Stigma

Photo by cottonbro studio

The change comes on the heels of complaints about racist tropes and Western stigmatization.

The World Health Organization is recommending that monkeypox be changed to “mpox” to avoid the racial stereotypes the name incurs. Both names are to be used for a year before being phased out, according to The New York Times.

The report further says the name was inspired by a colony of caged lab monkeys in Denmark. Researchers discovered the virus there nearly 50 years ago, but critics argue the name reinforces Western stereotypes about Africa being viewed as a source of pestilence and sexually transmitted diseases.

Changing the name to mpox comes in the wake of the recent spread of the virus to Europe and the United States after it quietly lived in Central and West African rural communities for decades.

“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 statement. “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.”

They also noted that the process, which normally takes years, was accelerated.

The media coverage of the virus is partially to blame for the name change. Western outlets initially used photos of infected Africans to showcase the virus, even though human-to-human transmission in Africa was uncommon until earlier this year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there have been 28,248 cases and 14 deaths related to mpox since the outbreak, with new infection rates on the decline.

While the virus remains most predominate amongst gay and bisexual men, the drop in new infections has been tied to a shift in sexual behavior and the availability of vaccines.

Although the term “monkeypox” will phase out, it will still remain searchable in the International Classification of Diseases for historical purposes.

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