Monkeypox in EECA: What the LGBT Community Needs to Know
Despite the fact that cases of monkeypox (MPX) in the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) are still quite rare — at the moment, only a few cases have been recorded in the region – experts around the world are asking to watch out for the new infection.
That is why ECOM organized a webinar for representatives of communities and non-governmental organizations in the EECA region to discuss what the LGBT community needs to know about the infection that is spreading in the world.
The following presenters spoke at the webinar: Antons Mozalevskis, Technical Officer: Key Populations, WHO; Barrie Dwyer, Health Promotion Coordinator, Terrence Higgins Trust (UK); and Yuri Yoursky, Legal Issues Coordinator, ECOM.
The discussion was moderated by Nikolay Lunchenkov, LGBT Health Coordinator at ECOM.
“Monkeypox is a fairly new and ongoing challenge to the health and well-being of people in the European region. Although there haven't been a large number of cases reported in the EECA region, this doesn't negate the importance of informing our communities about the modes of transmission and risks associated with this virus. In addition, the outbreak of MPX indirectly leads to an increase in the level of stigma and discrimination against LGBT people, which, of course, in terms of the effect on health, is much more dangerous and harmful than the disease itself. This is the first, but definitely not the last discussion that ECOM is going to hold in our region on this subject,” Nikolay Lunchenkov, LGBT Health Coordinator, ECOM.
The first thing discussed at the webinar was the name of the disease. Now everyone calls it "monkeypox". But due to the fact that this name is stigmatizing, discussions are underway at the WHO about the official change of the name to the abbreviation — MPX.
“MPX is a viral disease that is spread through close physical contact. It's found not only in humans, but also in animals, more often rodents. The infection outbreak has already been recorded in almost 30 countries around the world, including EECA countries. One of the reasons why the infection is spreading so quickly within the countries may be connected to a large number of public events. After all, June is a pride month, with a lot of pride events, which might become a new platform for the MPX distribution. So, it's important to remember that you can become infected with MPX through direct contact with a monkeypox rash from a person who is infected; through contact with objects, textiles (clothes, bedding or towels) and surfaces used by an infected person; and through contact with respiratory secretions, kissing and other face-to-face contact. So, if a person feels unwell or has a rash, it's better to avoid public places and consult a doctor,” said Antons Mozalevskis, Technical Officer: Key Populations, WHO.
Barrie Dwyer, Health Promotion Coordinator, Terrence Higgins Trust (UK), said that with the current outbreak of MPX in the UK, he and his colleagues had to respond quickly and create information products for the LGBT community.
Here are the challenges that Terrence Higgins Trust faced during their public awareness campaign:
"Virus fatigue" – people are tired of the COVID-19 period and respond less to new diseases.
"Everyone is an expert", which challenges trust in actual experts and leading institutions/agencies.
Theories and myths around the new disease. People think MPX is just a method of government control.
Barrie also shared how the MPX situation affects gays and bisexuals:
MPX is portrayed in the media as a "gay disease".
There are parallels in the media between MPX and AIDS in the 80s.
Increased internalized stigma within the community, through blaming PrEP use or lack of condom use (Warning: condoms do not protect against MPX, but protect against sexually transmitted infections).
Yuri Yoursky, Legal Issues Coordinator at ECOM, was the last speaker; he brought up the issue of stigmatization of the LGBT community in connection with the MPX spread.
Here are some tips from Yuri on what the community representatives can do right now:
Educate yourself and our community. So far, only a few cases have been reported in EECA, and it may seem to many that there's nothing to worry about. But the coronavirus experience showed that we must be one step ahead. We need to know all the available information to keep our communities safe. Now we still have a chance to deal with disease prevention, and we need to use it.
Use correct vocabulary. When we speak and write about MPX, we should avoid using words that incite homophobia or racism.
Have a strong stance against discrimination. From the experience of other countries, we see that the disease is labelled as “gay disease”. If there are cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation in our region – refusal to provide medical services or additional stigmatization of the community – react, speak up about it, and, if necessary, contact ECOM for advice.
We will continue to inform our communities about the new disease and work together to prevent MPX.