Monkeypox Fear of stigma affecting public health response

Although 98 percent of monkeypox cases to date have occurred in gay or bisexual men, fears of stigmatizing the disease have affected public health responses, experts say.

According to the World Health Organization, which has declared monkeypox a global medical emergency, the outbreak “focused on men who have sex with men, especially those who have multiple sexual partners.”

Additionally, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine last week that looked at infections in 16 countries between April and June found that 98 percent of cases occurred in gay or bisexual men.

In 95 percent of cases, infection occurs through sexual intercourse. Yet there is still a strange reluctance to say so in many public health reports, the Guardian reports.

“The vast majority of cases involve gay and bisexual men, and pretending that’s not the case doesn’t help any of us,” says Dr. Will Nutland, a sexual health activist and researcher, quotes.

But public health messages don’t always match this reality. The WHO, the UK’s Health Safety Board and others say anyone can get monkeypox. “Yes, anyone can get monkeypox, but no one gets monkeypox,” Nutland argued.

While it is currently highly unlikely that most people will catch monkeypox, it has suddenly become a major problem for the communities in which it is spread.

There is concern that if left unchecked, it could become an established STD (although it is not usually transmitted through bodily fluids but through prolonged skin-to-skin contact).

The reason for the move was “the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which has caused enormous stigma,” said Guardian columnist Owen Jones.

It springs from a well-meaning desire not to create embarrassment. “But if we’re not clear about where the risks are, it’s really self-defeating because we have to talk to him and protect him as a priority,” Owen said. “I really hope gay and bisexual men get more attention,” said Nutland. Until more vaccines are available, communication can only do so much.