Changes should lead to creating opportunities for better understanding

It is undesirable for misunderstandings and prejudice to spread due to the impression given by the name of a disease, hampering correct understanding of the disease. Society as a whole must consider appropriate names to call diseases.

The Japan Association for Diabetes Education and Care, an organization of mainly diabetes patients and doctors, announced that it will consider a new name in Japanese for the disease jointly with the Japan Diabetes Society. The move was led by a survey of patients that showed 90% of them had antipathy to the Japanese disease name, which is made up of the kanji characters for “sugar,” “urine” and “disease.”

Many patients indicated in the survey that they felt a sense of dirtiness and shame because the kanji for “urine” is in the disease name. As there are also children who have diabetes, another problem is they get readily teased in school.

Diabetes is a disease in which insulin secreted by the pancreas does not work properly for some reason and the body cannot utilize glucose effectively.

The current Japanese disease name is believed to have first been decided by the Japanese Society of Internal Medicine more than 100 years ago. The reason for the name is that the disease was diagnosed by a urine test. Today, it is known that sugar is not necessarily in the urine of diabetes patients, so the name does not fit the reality of the disease from a medical point of view.

The Japanese name of the disease comes with the biased image that patients “excessively eat sweets,” which has been hurting patients. If the name of the disease leads to prejudice and bullying, it is a problem that cannot be overlooked.

Diabetes is a disease that affects 10 million people in Japan. It is hoped that the consideration of an appropriate Japanese name will help to deepen understanding of the disease.

The World Health Organization is recommending using “mpox” for monkeypox, a disease that saw a worldwide outbreak this year. The recommendation was triggered, among other things, by the abuse of monkeys in some countries.

The name monkeypox came about because the virus was discovered in lab monkeys. The virus is originally thought, however, to have been carried by rats and other rodents, so the name does not fit the facts.

Some may argue that changing the name of a disease does not completely eliminate prejudice and that using names people are used to might be more convenient. Words, however, change with the times.

There have been cases in the past where the Japanese names of diseases have been changed and the new names have taken root. It is well known that “ninchi-sho,” the Japanese name for dementia now widely used and literally meaning “recognition disorder,” was once called “chiho-sho,” which has an insulting connotation of “stupid.” For schizophrenia, the Japanese term “seishin-bunretsu-byo,” literally meaning “mind splitting disease,” became “togoshitcho-sho,” meaning “integration disorder.” The changes were made because the former names led to prejudice.

It is hoped that the changes in disease names will support those who have to deal with the diseases and will help to realize a society with a sense of social togetherness.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 20, 2022)