Monkeypox stigma may spread ‘like a virus’, LGBTQ advocates say – National

Advocates warn the stigma could pose a threat to public health as a cluster of monkeypox cases spark concern in the queer community.

Health authorities are investigating more than two dozen confirmed cases of monkeypox in Canada amid an unprecedented outbreak of this rare disease that rarely spreads outside of Africa.

Twenty-five infections have been confirmed in Quebec, in addition to one in Ontario, the Public Health Agency of Canada announced Thursday, predicting that the number will increase in the coming days.

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While everyone is susceptible to the virus, clusters of cases have been reported among men who have sex with men, officials say.

For some LGBTQ advocates, this raises the specter of sexual stigma that has made gay and bisexual men the scapegoats of the rising HIV-AIDS epidemic.

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Others say the early detection of monkeypox cases by sexual health clinics shows how the queer community has come together to dismantle shame and promote safe practices.


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Quebec confirms 25 cases of monkeypox and plans to administer a vaccine


Quebec confirms 25 cases of monkeypox and plans to administer a vaccine

Canada’s deputy chief public health officer said he was aware of the potential for stigma and discrimination, reiterating that the spread of the virus is not limited to any specific group or sexual orientation.

But as early signs suggest the virus is circulating in some communities, authorities are working to raise awareness among people at high risk of exposure, Dr Howard Njoo told a news conference on Thursday.

The disease can be contracted through close contact with a sick person, including but not limited to sexual activity, Njoo said. Scientists are still working to determine what is driving cross-border transmission of the virus.

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Aaron Purdie, executive director of the Health Initiative for Men in BC, said he fears the spread of fear and stigma poses a bigger threat than the disease itself.

“Stigma spreads like a virus,” Purdie said. “Yes, it is treatable. Yes, it is content. But it still spreads.

Stigma can be a major barrier to effective disease prevention and treatment, especially for gay men who have experienced systemic discrimination from the healthcare system, Purdie said.

Dane Griffiths, director of the Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance of Ontario, said silence tends to perpetuate stigma. One of the best strategies to combat it is therefore to provide accurate and timely information without “shame or blame”.

The identification of monkeypox cases in men who have sex with men demonstrates the success of community-led efforts to improve access to testing and sexual health care, Griffiths said.

“There are gay and bisexual men who have presented themselves to clinics and doctors’ offices all over the world and are being seen and therefore counted,” Griffiths said. “It’s a good thing, and it’s actually to be encouraged within our community.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press


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