Political correctness gone too far?
London - They are supposed to be at the forefront of fighting disease and saving lives all over the world.
But in an astonishing example of political correctness, World Health Organisation officials have called for terms such as swine flu, bird flu and monkey pox to be banned – in order to protect animals from needless slaughter.
Other conditions – including German measles and Spanish flu – will also be outlawed because they might upset people from those countries.
Experts said the proposal would turn the Geneva-based WHO into an international laughing stock. The organisation was recently criticised for its failure to react quickly to the ebola outbreak in West Africa.
WHO – a UN body to which Britain contributes £35-million a year – says the aim of the new guidelines is to minimise the “negative impact” of such terms as German measles or Lyme disease on travel, tourism or animal welfare.
It also wants to avoid offending “cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups”.
But bacteriologist Professor Hugh Pennington, who chaired inquiries into E.coli outbreaks in Scotland and South Wales, said: “This won’t save lives. It comes under the heading of political correctness and I am very sceptical it will have any permanent benefit. As for avoiding upsetting animals, that is a load of rubbish.
“The World Health Organisation is a political organisation – an arm of the UN – which got badly burned by not acting fast enough on ebola. Well-known diseases have to be called something and changing names causes public confusion and might even be harmful.”
If governments and doctors around the world follow WHO advice, familiar terms such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, swine flu, legionnaire’s disease and paralytic shellfish poisoning will be dropped and replaced by names judged more politically correct.
The guidelines also call for the words “unknown”, “death”, “fatal” and “epidemic” to be avoided in descriptions of human disease because they can ‘incite undue fear’.
Geographic locations will be sidelined to protect the feelings of people living in those regions, spelling the end of Middle East respiratory syndrome, Rift Valley fever and Japanese encephalitis.
Swine flu will also be dumped because the designation led to the unnecessary culling of pigs which had no connection with the 2009 pandemic, according to a WHO spokesman. Virologist and bird flu expert Professor John Oxford said: “This document is laudable in its intent but slightly daft. There is a danger the WHO will be seen as a laughing stock.”
However, the three-page paper on “best practice” was strongly defended by WHO assistant director-general Keiji Fukuda.
He said certain disease names had created a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities and had erected barriers to travel and trade, as well as sometimes triggering the needless slaughtering of animals. The WHO was founded in 1948 with the aim of protecting populations around the globe from the scourge of infectious disease. Spokesperson Dr Margaret Harris said: “We want to get away from emotive and stigmatising terminology.”
STRAIN of flu endemic in pigs and can be transmitted with fatal consequences to humans. Caused a flu pandemic in 2009. May lead to unnecessary culling of pigs. If banned, will be known as H1N1.
Mail On Sunday