With so many new diseases being discovered, the World Health Organization had to establish a set of rules that won’t allow researchers and scientists to use names of people or locations in naming them, as the practice can acquire negative connotations in both scenarios.
The global organization wants to end the method of naming human infectious diseases with unnecessarily negative names or after geographic locations, and it urges the scientific, research, governmental and media industries to implement better practices.
Several new diseases that infect humans have been discovered in recent years. According to Dr. Keiji Fukuda, speaking on behalf of WHO, identifying diseases by giving them names such as “avian flu” and “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome” was met with unexpected and unintended backlash because it stigmatized specific communities or geographical zones.
Fukuda explained that, time and time again, various disease names were proven to cause negative response from religious or ethnic communities. At the same time, they offer opportunities for establishing unjustified obstacles for tourism, trade and livelihood, and food animals targeted by them are then needlessly slaughtered.
Even though the general tendency is to ignore WHO’s directives in this direction, Fukuda claims that such naming practices can have serious repercussions on people’s lives.
In a lot of cases, the media ends up naming a disease keeping in mind the fact that it has to look good in headlines and attract the public’s attention. In more recent years, even social networks with great affluence (Facebook, Reddit, Twitter) have been contributing to this practice.
That’s why human illnesses need to be given an appropriate descriptor, one which will be both politically correct and scientifically approved. WHO suggested that a proper name would include a general descriptor (respiratory, winter, mild) – bases on symptoms – and the name of the pathogen that causes it, if it is known.
WHO urged all the industries involved in the naming process to avoid words and terms that would point to specific geographic areas or those which are derogatory to animals or people.
The current naming regulations are the product of more agencies working alongside WHO: the International Classification of Diseases, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the World Organization for Animal Health.
WHO also pointed to the fact that even though the International Classification of Diseases is the ultimate decision-maker when infectious disease names are concerned, it is rather difficult to override the names promoted by media or social network, although they are almost always not within the guidelines.
Image Source: Xebia Labs