The stigma of monkeypox – BioEdge

The World Health Organization has refused to panic over the rapid and unprecedented spread of monkeypox around the world.

In its latest opinion (June 17), it states that “WHO rates the risk at global level as moderate, as this is the first time many cases and clusters of monkeypox have been reported simultaneously in many countries in widely differing geographic areas from the WHO , balanced by the fact that mortality has remained low in the current outbreak.”

So if there’s a hint of panic, it’s about the name of the disease, not its nature.

Stigmatization is emerging as one of the key ethical issues in the monkeypox epidemic. Twenty-two virologists signed an open letter calling for “a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatizing nomenclature for monkeypox virus.” Their argument is that the term “monkeypox” associates a terrifying disease with Africans. The implication is that it is potentially racist. They represent a neutral term such as “hMPXV”.

The WHO is likely to announce an official name change this week.

In the long run, however, the most glaring ethical issue may be something entirely different. The monkeypox epidemic, like the HIV/AIDS epidemic, may become a problem in public health ethics – it appears that it is almost exclusively a disease spread through sexual contact among homosexuals.

Even the WHO acknowledges this in its official advice: “The monkeypox outbreak continues to primarily affect men who have sex with men who have recently reported sex with new or multiple partners.”

A report from the UK Health Security Agency found there were 336 confirmed cases as of June 8 – and 99 percent of these were male. Authorities questioned 152 of these cases and 151 were men who have sex with men. The only exception had refused to cooperate.

The outbreak comes at a sensitive time. All over the world there are major international festivals in conjunction with “Pride Month”, a time to honor the LGBTQI+ community. One, in May in the Canary Islands, was attended by 80,000 people and was the source of many of the other cases across Europe.

however, the New York Times has reported that public health officials are reluctant to highlight the link between sexual orientation and monkeypox because it could stigmatize homosexuals:

Pride celebrations are the perfect time to raise awareness among those in the LGBTQ community who are most at risk, health officials said in interviews, but they also create a challenge for those looking to deliver a message about protecting the community without create alarm or stigma. More generally, organizers and health officials don’t want to put a damper on Pride celebrations and their positive messages about sexual identity.

As far as scientists currently know, monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease. But it could be called a gay lifestyle-borne disease. How and how vigorously should public health authorities make the LGBTQI+ community aware of this?

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