Monkeypox: Fear of stigma affecting public health response

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London, July 25 (IANS) Although 98 per cent of monkeypox cases, to date, are seen among gay or bisexual men, a fear of stigmatising the disease has affected the public health response, experts have argued.

According to the World Health Organisation, which has declared monkeypox a global health emergency, the outbreak “is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners”.

Further, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine last week, which looked at infections across 16 countries between April and June, found that 98 per cent of cases were in gay or bisexual men.

In 95 per cent of cases, the infection occurred through sexual activity.

Yet, there has still been a curious reticence in much of the public health messaging about saying so, the Guardian reported.

“The vast, vast majority of cases are in gay and bisexual men, and pretending that that’s not the case that doesn’t help any of us,” sexual health activist and researcher, Dr Will Nutland was quoted as saying.

But the public health messaging hasn’t always matched that reality.

The WHO, the UK Health Security Agency and others have maintained that anyone can catch monkeypox.

“Well yeah, anyone could get monkeypox, but not anyone is getting monkeypox,” Nutland argued.

While most people are very unlikely to catch monkeypox at the moment, for the communities where it is spreading, it’s suddenly a huge subject.

There are fears that if it is not stopped, it could become an entrenched STD (although it is not usually transmitted through bodily fluids, but through prolonged skin-to-skin contact).

The reason behind the approach is “the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which led to huge stigmatisation”, said Guardian columnist Owen Jones.

It stems from the well-intentioned desire to avoid creating a sense of shame.

“But if we’re not clear about where the risk is, it’s completely self-defeating, because that’s who we have to prioritise talking to and protecting,” Owen said.

“I really wish more attention had been paid to gay and bisexual men,” Nutland said.

Until vaccines are more easily available, there’s only so much communications can do.

–IANS

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