After last week’s speculations that the World Health Organization (WHO) is “planning to redesignate monkeypox as MPOX,” WHO announced Monday it will begin using “a new preferred term ‘mpox’ as a synonym for monkeypox” following a “series of consultations with global experts.”
WHO says “both names will be used simultaneously for one year while ‘monkeypox’ is phased out,” and the transition period will help overcome the possible “confusion caused by a name change in the midst of a global outbreak,” as concerned experts underscored.
WHO states that “assigning names to new and, very exceptionally, to existing diseases is the responsibility of WHO under the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and the WHO Family of International Health Related Classifications” in consultation with WHO Member States.
Although it can usually take up to several years for the ICD update to be completed, the process was accelerated in this case “though following the standard steps.”
In line with the WHO recommendations, the synonym mpox “will be included in the ICD-10 online in the coming days” and “it will be a part of the official 2023 release of ICD-11, which, according to the world health body, “is the current global standard for health data, clinical documentation, and statistical aggregation.”
Also, the current term monkeypox “will remain a searchable term in ICD, to match historic information.”
New name ‘mpox’ will help avoid stigma
The WHO was asked to propose a way forward to change the name by a number of individuals, communities, and countries, which raised concerns about the racist and stigmatizing language that spread online after the monkeypox outbreak expanded earlier this year.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also acknowledged in July that stigmatization was a serious issue for the prevention of monkeypox, pointing out that “stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus, and can fuel the outbreak.”
Back in June, a group of scientists emphasized in a joint statement that “in the context of the current global outbreak, continued reference to, and nomenclature of this virus being African is not only inaccurate but is also discriminatory and stigmatizing.”
Stigma hampers vaccination efforts
Since the start of the year, WHO has recorded almost 80,000 confirmed cases and 50 deaths, although the epidemic appears to be on the decline.
POLITICO wrote last week that the quick decision by WHO comes “in response to growing pressure from senior Biden officials” after months of arguing that “the virus’ name was deepening stigma, above all among people of color,” further claiming the slow movement toward a new designation “hampered its vaccination campaign” initiated over the summer.
As we reported in August, White House Monkeypox Response Coordinator Bob Fenton announced “the U.S. will soon have enough monkeypox vaccine available for everyone in the at-risk community to receive two doses of vaccine” after allocating “1.1 million vials of the JYNNEOS monkeypox vaccine,” which was developed by Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) member Bavarian Nordic.
In the meantime, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an emergency use authorization for intradermal administration of the JYNNEOS vaccine, allowing “five-fold the number of doses available, with the same immunological response.”