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Thursday, April 4, 2024

The Impact of Disease Names on Communities: A Call for Compassionate Renaming

# The Impact of Disease Names on Communities: A Call for Compassionate Renaming

### By Marie Seshat Landry

The names we give to diseases do more than just identify a set of symptoms or an infectious agent; they carry weight, shape perceptions, and can significantly affect the communities they are associated with. Recent discussions within the World Health Organization (WHO) and the broader medical and scientific communities have highlighted the urgent need to reconsider how we name diseases. The goal is to minimize the potential for stigma and the negative impact on communities, cultures, or locations. Here are some notable examples:

#### **1. Monkeypox**

The term "monkeypox" misleadingly associates the virus with monkeys, despite them not being its natural hosts. The WHO has advocated for a name change to mitigate stigma and facilitate global efforts to combat the virus's spread.

#### **2. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)**

The geographic marker in "Middle East Respiratory Syndrome" unfairly stigmatizes an entire region, potentially affecting its social and economic well-being.

#### **3. Swine Flu**

Similarly, "swine flu" has led to misconceptions about the pig farming industry, impacting travel, commerce, and trade based on unfounded fears.

#### **4. Lyme Disease**

Naming a disease after Lyme, Connecticut, where it was first identified, inadvertently places a burden on the town and its inhabitants, potentially affecting its reputation and economy.

#### **5. Spanish Flu**

The "Spanish flu" moniker inaccurately associates the 1918 influenza pandemic with Spain, despite evidence suggesting its origins elsewhere. This has led to unnecessary stigmatization of the country.

#### **6. German Measles**

"German measles" is a historical artifact of World War I propaganda with no actual connection to Germany, demonstrating how disease names can be weaponized to foster prejudice.

#### **7. Ebola Virus Disease**

Choosing "Ebola virus disease" was a deliberate effort to avoid naming the virus after the village where it was first discovered, aiming to prevent local stigma.

#### **8. Nipah Virus**

Named after the Nipah River in Malaysia, the "Nipah virus" has had a detrimental effect on the region's economy, especially on tourism, demonstrating the economic impact of disease naming.

#### **9. Lassa Fever**

"Lassa fever" avoids direct stigma towards the village of Lassa, where the virus was discovered, but still presents challenges in terms of broad regional association.

#### **10. African Sleeping Sickness**

The term "African sleeping sickness" unfairly generalizes a disease to an entire continent, overshadowing the diverse and complex nature of Africa and its peoples.

### **A Path Forward**

The WHO has established best practices for naming new human infectious diseases, aiming to minimize negative impacts and stigmatization. This approach is not just about political correctness; it's a crucial component of effective disease management and global health policy. Compassionate and thoughtful naming can:

- Reduce barriers to global cooperation in disease tracking, management, and eradication efforts.

- Minimize economic impacts on regions unjustly associated with diseases.

- Foster a more inclusive and respectful dialogue around health crises.

As we move forward, let's advocate for names that respect the dignity of all communities and promote a united front against health threats. The impact of a name extends far beyond the pages of medical journals into the lives of those it inadvertently affects. It's time for a change, led by empathy, understanding, and the collective will to do better.

*Marie Seshat Landry is a health advocate and writer committed to fostering understanding and compassion in healthcare communication.*


**Marie Seshat Landry**
*CEO & OSINT Spymaster*

**Contact Information:**
* Email: marielandryceo@gmail.com
* Website: www.marielandryceo.com
* Location: Moncton, Canada

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