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Queer activists warn against stigmatising, associating monkeypox mainly with gay men

People queue up to receive monkeypox vaccinations during a pop-up clinic at Guy's Hospital in central London, Britain, July 30, 2022. Picture: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

People queue up to receive monkeypox vaccinations during a pop-up clinic at Guy's Hospital in central London, Britain, July 30, 2022. Picture: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Published Aug 2, 2022

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Cape Town - With the first deaths from monkeypox reported in Spain and India, local organisations have warned against stigmatising certain groups.

The LGBTQIA+ community said they should rather be associated with testing and vaccination, as opposed to the monkeypox virus.

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From June 22 to July 26, South Africa reported three unlinked laboratory-confirmed cases in Gauteng, Western Cape and Limpopo in males aged 30, 32 and 42 years, respectively.

On July 22, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Reports by health bodies have linked the virus to gay men or men who have sex with men (MSM), leading to stigmatisation and homophobia.

QueerLivesMatter activist Kamva Gwana stressed the damaging effects of the stigma being associated with gay men or MSM. This was further highlighted by several LGBTQIA+ advocacy organisations such as OUT LGBT in South Africa and further abroad.

“We think it is particularly troubling for these narratives to be allowed to continue in South Africa when we know far too well as a country the dangers of stigmatisation when it comes to viruses and disease that we face through the HIV/Aids pandemic in South Africa.

“More work should be done to dispel these misconceptions and the associated stigma, and more careful consideration should be given to how information about the virus is shared,” he said.

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Gwana said the LGBTQIA+ community was one that frequently tested for HIV and STIs, and took up available treatments such as PrEP and PEP.

“It’s important to state in this situation because it means people of the LGBTQIA+ community are more likely to become aware if they have an infection of this virus.

“We’ve been seeing around the world that a lot of people are contracting the virus, but are saying, ‘It doesn’t affect us, it only affects MSM people, therefore I don’t have to isolate, I don't have to manage it properly’, or people are not getting tested or able to isolate and treat the virus effectively enough,” he said.

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Triangle Project communications officer Ling Sheperd said this kind of media reporting on commentary on monkeypox only reinforced homophobic stereotypes.

“Stigmatising the LGBTQIA+ community for the spread will not help anyone. Framing monkeypox as a ‘gay disease’ is harmful and fuels the damaging stereotypes of gay men and MSM that is already out there. This is reminiscent of the narratives around HIV/Aids decades ago. It was harmful and we are still seeing and feeling the effects today.”

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