German measles is 'offensive' to the Germans warns WHO
Published 10/05/2015 | 21:56
With Ebola still raging in West Africa, a humanitarian health crisis in Syria and still no cure for malaria and HIV, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has its plate full.
But despite its myriad challenges, the WHO's experts have found time to ban disease names like German measles - because names which single out whole countries could be offensive.
The condition's name is just one of almost 20 diseases criticised by health chiefs for stigmatising various social groups.
Legionnaire's disease, Cooks syndrome and Psoriasis butchers disease are also highlighted as examples of naming which could cause offence to entire professions.
However the WHO's 'best practice' report does not recommend changing existing disease names.
Instead it warns experts to be alert to the pitfalls of giving diseases politically incorrect names, warning that misleading branding can stick forever.
The missive also recommends that experts don't use geographic locations for conditions' names to avoid deterring tourists.
Japanese encephalitis, Middle East respiratory syndrome and Rift Valley fever are all examples of diseases which would have received different names under the proposals.
Alarming phrases including 'unknown', 'death', 'fatal' and 'epidemic' are also to be avoided to avoid inciting undue fear.
But experts have warned that the proposals will have little benefit to public health.
"This won’t save lives. It comes under the heading of political correctness and I am very sceptical it will have any permanent benefit.
"The World Health Organisation is a political organisation – an arm of the UN – which got badly burned by not acting fast enough on Ebola."
The WHO has defended its advice, insisting that poorly named diseases have been responsible for backlashes against specific groups.
WHO assistant director general Dr Keiji Fukudasaid: “This may seem like a trivial issue to some, but disease names really do matter.
"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 people’s lives and livelihoods.”