North Carolina still has time to fight monkeypox stigma

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The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has expanded eligibility for the monkeypox vaccine to prevent the virus from spreading further.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has expanded eligibility for the monkeypox vaccine to prevent the virus from spreading further.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

You would assume that after more than two years of a global pandemic that has killed nearly 25,500 people in North Carolina alone, we would have learned from our mistakes and started preparing for the second a new disease loomed in the distance. .

Instead, we seem to be repeating the wrong things, and the people who will suffer are the LGBTQIA+ community, especially black and brown men, non-binary people, and trans women. North Carolina had 53 confirmed cases of monkeypox as of Friday afternoon. The majority of cases are in Mecklenburg County, but cases are occurring in 11 other counties. Despite the vulnerability we all have to the virus, the group that keeps coming up is ‘men who have sex with men’, which campaigners say creates a stigma similar to the early years of the coronavirus epidemic. AIDS.

“Our community is often stigmatized when it comes to public health,” Rebby Kern, director of education policy for Equality NC, tells me. They mention that monkeypox comes at a specific time, where transphobic and homophobic rhetoric has translated into bills across the country and in our own state over the past few years. Kern and other advocates worry that the current characterization of the disease only promotes hateful rhetoric and action.

Currently, the vast majority of cases are reported in men who have sex with men. Despite this, it is not a sexually transmitted disease, and there is a real possibility that more cases will go undetected, either because people don’t go to get tested or they are misdiagnosed. with something else.

“What we’re seeing across the country is that clinicians need to be able to tell the difference between monkeypox, herpes and syphilis,” Elizabeth Finley, director of communications for the National Coalition of STD Directors. “They may look alike in some ways.”

The test itself, however, was difficult. The first man to contract MPX in County Durham had traveled to Europe, where the disease is more common, and says he knew immediately what the sores were when they developed. Despite the information he had, he says he struggled to be listened to, even with wounds on his face.

“It’s a process where I felt like I had to fight every step of the way to get tested or be taken seriously and no one did until the test came back positive” , said the 29-year-old, who has not publicly shared his name, told ABC11.

Even the name itself, “monkeypox”, carries a stigma that medical professionals must now reckon with. Ashwin Vasan, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, recently joined advocates in calling for the disease to be rebranded to reduce stigma against black people and brunettes and the LGBTQ+ community. The virus did not come from monkeys; it gets its name from primate research studies. Vasan reminded the World Health Organization of the racist and homophobic disinformation campaign since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, where people began to believe that the disease originated from sexual activity between Africans and primates .

Currently, the risk of dying from monkeypox is very low. It happened; there have been five deaths caused by the virus in the past year. All took place in Africa, where smallpox began in the 1970s; in 2017, there was an outbreak in Ethiopia. Now the virus is finally making its way to Europe and the Americas.

If you do the math, you’ll notice the fifty-year gap between the discovery of monkeypox and now, and the five years since the epidemic hit Ethiopia. Monkeypox began appearing in the United States in May. A month later, North Carolina had its first recorded case. Yet it seems that any preparation that should have been made in the weeks, months, and even years prior has not been made.

If we are going to have another outbreak, we need to learn that singling people out can add stigma, even unintentionally. We must stop treating the disease as a moral failure; instead, we must ask whether the government and those in power did enough to prevent this disaster in the first place.

Sara Pequeño is a McClatchy opinion writer based at News & Observer in Raleigh.

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Sara Pequeño is a Raleigh-based opinion writer for McClatchy’s opinion team in North Carolina and a member of the editorial board. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2019 and has been writing in North Carolina ever since.

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