From now on, the World Health Organization (WHO) will refer to monkeypox disease as “mpox”. The name change comes as a result of a series of consultations with global experts.
WHO will refer to the disease by both names simultaneously for one year while “monkeypox” is phased out. WHO had observed racist and stigmatising language online around the term ‘monkeypox disease’ following the outbreak of the virus in early 2022.
In a series of public and private meetings, several individuals and organisations from various countries raised concerns about the naming of monkeypox disease and asked WHO to consider a name change.
WHO are responsible for naming new, and very occasionally renaming, diseases under the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). This is through the WHO Family of International Health Related Classifications via a consultative process which includes WHO Member States.
In accordance with the ICD update process, WHO held a series of consultations where views were gathered from a range of experts, as well as countries and the general public. All parties involved were invited to submit a suggestion for the new name.
WHO release new recommendations
WHO’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, made the following recommendations based on the consultations:
- Adoption of the new synonym mpox in English for the monkeypox disease.
- Mpox will become a preferred term, replacing monkeypox, after a transition period of one year. This serves to mitigate the concerns raised by experts about confusion caused by a name change in the midst of a global outbreak. It also gives time to complete the ICD update process and to update WHO publications.
- The synonym mpox will be included in the ICD-10 online in the coming days. It will be a part of the official 2023 release of ICD-11, which is the current global standard for health data, clinical documentation and statistical aggregation.
- The term “monkeypox” will remain a searchable term in ICD, to match historic information.
Rationale, scientific appropriateness, the extent of current usage, pronounceability, usability in different languages, absence of geographical or zoological references, and the ease of retrieval of historical scientific information were considered by WHO before the release of its recommendations.
The renaming of monkeypox disease was accelerated
The ICD updating process typically takes several years; however, the process was accelerated in this case.
According to WHO: “Various advisory bodies were heard during the consultation process, including experts from the medical and scientific and classification and statistics advisory committees which constituted of representatives from government authorities of 45 different countries”.
The issue of the use of the new name in different languages was discussed extensively in the consultations. The term mpox can be used in all languages. If any additional naming issues arise, they will be addressed using the same mechanism. Translations are typically discussed in formal collaboration with relevant government authorities and related scientific societies.
WHO will begin using the term mpox immediately in its communications and encourages other organisations to follow these recommendations. WHO believes this will minimise any ongoing negative impact of the term “monkeypox disease”.