World Health Organization may have declared Monkeypox as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on June 23, but the LGBTQ community have raised questions about why their governments and the United Nations agency have not focused directly on warning them and on targeted vaccinations. A research report by the New England Journal of Medicine found that out of 528 infections diagnosed between April 27 and June 24, 2022, at 43 sites in 16 countries, 98 per cent of the persons with infection were gay or bisexual men.
But WHO has not gone as far as calling it a sexually transmitted disease, instead on May 25 it issued the ‘Monkeypox: public health advice for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men’. A few days after the WHOs health advisory, an article in the Atlantic titled ‘Gay Men Need a Specific Warning About Monkeypox’ had the writer reflect on what he called a worry, “that public-health leaders are not doing enough to directly alert men who have sex with men about monkeypox.”
While he went on to point out that United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials had been acknowledging the threat to the community, what was also evident was the fear of others saying something homophobic. Health agencies, he said, were “putting gay men at risk unless they prioritize them for interventions such as public-awareness campaigns, vaccines, and tests.”
This is especially after reporting a rise in monkeypox cases over pride month in June. Los Angeles Times wrote that LGBTQ activists and health leaders had been sounding the alarm about monkeypox for weeks, saying they were inadequately prepared and overlooked by public health officials.
California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon was quoted, as calling on federal officials to declare monkeypox a national public health emergency, adding that “During recent Pride Month activities, thousands of those vaccines’ doses could have been administered at celebratory events, clinics, LGBTQ bars and gathering places throughout the state. That did not happen, and it enabled the spread.”
LGBTQ rights groups are questioning the government’s slow response and the lack of prioritized vaccines for the community. Tyler Termeer, the AIDS Foundation’s CEO likened it to the HIV and AIDS epidemic during the 1980s and 90s, saying “Are we in another moment when the lives of gay and bi men are not being prioritized?”
Slow Reaction Of WHO
The last time the WHO sounded its highest alarm declaring a ‘public health emergency of international concern’, or PHEIC, it was January 30, 2020, and that outbreak was Covid-19. The WHO has also been criticized for its inaction, or slow reaction to disease outbreaks.
Even those the WHO had announced the PHEIC, few countries heeded the WHO’s call for testing, tracing and social distancing. By mid-March, it had spread around the world and to date has caused 63,73,739 deaths. Nature.com, the science journal, says that several reports noted politicians and the public mainly ignored the PHEIC declaration and the WHOs Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ recommendations in January. It was only when the organization used the unofficial term ‘pandemic’ to describe COVID-19 in March, did things change.
But even the declaration of PHEIC had happened a week after a closed-door meeting of virologists, public-health researchers and certain government representatives, by the WHO had decided that a public health emergency warning wasn’t warranted. Tedros has been quoted as saying that Covid 19 “has not yet become a global health emergency,” but added, “It may yet become one.”
In the case of Monkeypox, an advisory panel – International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) Emergency Committee – was convened by the WHO on June 23, which also had, like in the case of Covid-19, concluded that the monkeypox outbreak did not yet warrant the declaration of PHEIC.
The WHO then had its second meeting on July 21, with the panel regarding the multi-country outbreak of monkeypox. And yet, the press release states that the committee did not reach a consensus regarding their advice on the determination of a PHEIC.
By then the disease has affected nearly 17,000 people in 74 countries. The Statement then said that the WHO Director-General had recognized the complexities and uncertainties associated with this public health event. “Having considered the views of Committee Members and Advisors as well as other factors in line with the International Health Regulations, the Director-General has determined that the multi-country outbreak of monkeypox constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”
Concerns are that like in the case of Covid-19, precious time to contain the virus may have not been lost.