The World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox as a “public health emergency of international concern” after it received reports over 16,000 cases in 75 countries. The outbreak is reportedly occurring particularly, but not exclusively, among gay men and other men who have sex with men.
“The World Health Organization has issued an urgent call… based on clear evidence that (monkeypox) represents a global threat to the health of communities and requires a global response,” said Dr. Matthew Kavanagh, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director a.i. “This outbreak can be stopped if governments, healthcare providers, communities, and pharmaceutical companies act with urgency.”
But with reports noting that monkeypox greatly affects members of the LGBTQIA community – e.g. in the US, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that while anyone can get or spread monkeypox, a “notable fraction of cases” are occurring among gay and bisexual men – Kavanagh added that responses should draw from the “hard-learnt lessons of the response to the AIDS pandemic, effective public health actions must be guided by the principles of solidarity, equality, nondiscrimination and inclusion.”
It can be remembered that in the 1980s, in the early days of AIDS, responses were partially slowed by the misconception that the syndrome only affected members of the LGBTQIA community, which was then largely discriminated. AIDS was even initially termed “GRID” (gay-related immune deficiency), “gay compromise syndrome”, “gay lymph node syndrome”, “gay cancer”, “gay plague” and “homosexual syndrome” – among others.
For Kavanagh, even if monkeypox is “currently most impacting gay men and other men who have sex with men”, the virus, spread through close contact, can affect anyone.
“Stigma and discrimination undermine epidemic response, sending people with symptoms underground and failing to address the underlying barriers that people face in attempting to protect their own health and that of their community. It can also cause public health authorities to act with insufficient urgency,” he said, adding that people should “demonstrate compassion to those affected, not discrimination.”
For the UNAIDS, an issue now is the struggle of low- and middle-income countries to get access to vaccines being deployed now in high income countries.
“Repeating vaccine nationalism and inequality will prolong the outbreak and unjustly deepen suffering from this virus. We call on governments and vaccine manufacturers to work together to ensure that all those in need can access and benefit from vaccines, including people affected in endemic countries,” Kavanagh ended.