The World Health Organization (WHO), in association with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a set of new best practices for naming diseases.
Specialists at the consortium of organizations stated that too often they witnessed degrading treatments and unwanted practices stemming from the use of common place terms in the naming of diseases. Swine Flu, Pig Flu, Middle East Respiratory System, Spanish Flu and many others resulted in either discriminatory behavior, unwarranted barriers to travelling or unfortunate economic relapse.
In an effort to level these occurrences to a minimum, WHO advised and urged all health practitioners, media and social media to further refrain from giving names to disease. The best practices guidelines are easy to follow and understandable for all those outside the scientific community. Thus, it is expected that the past occurrences when a disease name is established outside the scientific community quickly spreads throughout the global community will come to a halt.
Firstly, it is worth stating that the name of any new human disease is established by the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and is then under the management of the World Health Organization. To this extent, the WHO asked that the following criteria is given consideration and applied.
Firstly, a new disease name should contain general descriptive terms, consistent with its symptoms. Secondly, more descriptive terms should be added at the time when it is known how the disease manifests and which categories it mostly affects. For instance, acceptable terms would be “juvenile”, “winter”, “severe”. Thirdly, it is recommended that the pathogen becomes part of the new disease’s name.
WHO officials asked that in naming a new disease, people’s names, regions of the world, states or animal denominations should be avoided at all costs. It is a commendable effort to stop discrimination and counterproductive behavior, albeit derided by some.
Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security at WHO stated that:
“This may seem like a trivial issue to some, but disease names really do matter to the people who are directly affected. 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. This can have serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods.”
It is only fair that national authorities and the media pool their efforts in giving new disease names that are socially acceptable and reflect a scientific reality. Pinpointing any infectious disease to people’s names or regions has negative effects on communities worldwide.
Image Source: cidrap.umn.edu