As Monkeypox spreads throughout countries across the globe, LGBTQ+ and African activists have united to demand a change to the disease's name.
Experts are calling the term "Monkeypox" racist, as it disparages the continent of Africa where the disease originated, linking it to primates. While the infection was originally discovered in monkeys, it has infected over 46,700 humans since its first discovered case in 1970, the LA Times reports.
The first two major strains of Monkeypox were referred to as the Congo Basin clade and the West African clade. Scientists internationally called for the labels to change, stating it was "not only inaccurate but is also discriminatory and stigmatizing.” The World Health Organization then renamed the groups Clade I and Clade II, respectively.
Officials also agree that having an animal in the name of a disease can stigmatize those who become infected, in this case, primarily men of the LGBTQ+ community. Some worry that infected individuals will not seek treatment because of the negative connotations.
Dr. Keiji Fukuda, former assistant director at the WHO, argues that names such as “swine flu” have had “unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors." In fact, after the outbreak of swine flu in 2009, the pork industry suffered major losses. Recently, monkeys have been slaughtered in Brazil due to fear of the virus.
“We’ve seen certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals," Fukuda shares. "This can have serious consequences for people’s lives and livelihoods.”
The WHO banned naming diseases after areas, people, or animals in 2015, forty-five years after Monkeypox was given its name. Now, the WHO will hold an open forum to seek a different, less offensive name. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden, agrees with the recent consensus, saying, “Monkeypox is kind of a strange name to give to a disease that’s now afflicting humans."
California's Department of Public Health has begun referring to the disease as "MPX," with Canadian LGBTQ+ organizations adopting a similar moniker, "Mpox." Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey have chosen "hMPXV."
Dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health and infectious-disease epidemiologist, Dr. Perry N. Halkitis, believes that while changing a disease's name during an outbreak is difficult, it can and should be done.
“Is there going to be one solution that’s going to make every single person happy? Nope," she said. "But there’s going to be one solution that’s going to be the least offensive of all of the solutions, and it’s going to move us in a slightly better direction with this disease.”