The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced it recommends the use of mpox instead of monkeypox to refer to the virus.
But long before the official modification, a Montreal community organization pioneered a grassroots movement for change of its own.
For months, REZO Santé, a non-profit supporting the health needs of the gay and bisexual community, has been mounting awareness campaigns over the spread of the virus and subsequently, the use of the term mpox.
“I believe it shouldn’t have been called that way [monkeypox],” said Steve Bastien, a community worker at REZO Santé.
“When we hear ‘monkey’ and when we think the outbreak is from Africa, we link people and Africa with monkeys. We forget that we’re talking about human beings that can live discrimination and prejudice.”
Mpox is an infectious disease that causes many symptoms, including a fever, headaches and a painful rash.
This past summer, Montreal was declared the epicentre of an mpox outbreak that spread around the world.
Many of the cases affected the city’s gay community.
Dr. Réjean Thomas, founder of L’Actuel Clinique, says the name monkeypox brought a lot of stigma to his patients.
“Mostly the gay men, maybe older, who discovered AIDS in the ’80s. They were very sensitive to the term ‘monkeypox’, to the disease, to this new epidemic. There were some similarities,” said Dr. Thomas.
“For many of them, it was a bad souvenir.”
It was one of the reasons REZO took action.
During Pride month, the non-profit enlisted the help of several famous drag queens to promote vaccination, already using the term mpox.
Another video on REZO’s account shows New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh calling the virus mpox as well.
The organization even met with Canadian health officials and discussed the use of the term, instead of monkeypox.
“We’ve basically been trying to lead the way for the rest of the country on how do we act properly to this outbreak,” said Sam Miriello, REZO Santé’s human resources director.
So when the WHO invited people to submit their name proposals to change the name, REZO officials say they jumped at the opportunity, submitting the name mpox.
On Monday, when the WHO announced it had retained the term, REZO workers celebrated.
“Changing the term for ‘M’ or ‘mpox’ is a victory because we finally have a term, a word that is more inclusive,” Bastien said.
“I’m very proud and also mostly happy for our population and communities.”
The WHO says both names will be used simultaneously for one year while the term monkeypox is phased out.
While the disease has been nearly eradicated in Montreal due to vaccination, Dr. Thomas says change can’t happen soon enough.
“They can change that today,” Dr. Thomas exclaimed.
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