LGBTQ organizations have welcomed the Biden administration’s decision to declare the ongoing monkeypox outbreak a national health emergency.
The hope is that the declaration will inspire rapid and focused actions to help stem the virus before it becomes endemic to areas where it has traditionally not been found.
The number of confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States has exceeded 6,600, and many local health departments appear to be unprepared to deal with the outbreak, lacking an adequate number of tests to diagnose the disease, vaccines to prevent it, and medication to treat those already infected.
Several localities, including the District of Columbia, have begun rationing vaccine supplies, seeking to get as many people as possible vaccinated with the first of two shots while postponing the second shot.
While anyone can become infected with monkeypox, nearly 99% of all cases in countries where the disease is not endemic have occurred among men who have sex with men. While not technically considered a sexually transmitted disease, monkeypox is generally spread through close or prolonged skin-to-skin contact. Many patients have reported they became infected through sex.
Monkeypox, also known as MPV, can also be spread through fomites, or objects, such as sheets, bedding, towels, or articles of clothing that have touched monkeypox lesions. Recovery takes from 2 to 4 weeks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a longtime LGBTQ ally, called the emergency declaration a “crucial step” to stopping the virus’s spread.
“Across our nation, including in my hometown of San Francisco, we are already seeing monkeypox inflict serious harm — particularly, taking a disproportionate toll on our LGBTQ family, friends, and neighbors. As we learned from the COVID crisis, we must act swiftly and decisively to get ahead and stay ahead of this virus,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“It is encouraging that the Biden Administration is making nearly 800,000 doses of the vaccine available, with 40 percent already reaching our communities — and more must be done to ensure quick distribution to areas with the greatest need,” Pelosi continued. “We must also ensure that communities have the ability to track, trace and treat monkeypox, while removing barriers to access these tools, offering culturally competent and compassionate care, and combating stigma.”
The National Black Justice Coalition praised the declaration, saying it would allow the creation of more tests and vaccines, which can then be distributed across the country to reach at-risk communities.
“MPV is a virus that spreads from skin to skin contact, whether from a hug, sports, kiss, shopping at a packed grocery store, dancing at a club, intimacy, or from surfaces,” Victoria Kirby York, the deputy executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said in a statement. “It can be deadly for kids and pregnant women and has several painful and uncomfortable symptoms. We have a window of opportunity as a nation to accomplish what we have not with COVID 19, which is to stop it from impacting the lives of millions.”
NBJC has also called on public health officials to consult with and include feedback from representatives of various communities, including Black LGBTQ people, as part of the decision-making process regarding public health efforts addressing MPV.
The organization released a webpage to educate members of the Black LGBTQ and same-gender-loving community about what they need to know to curb the spread of MPV.
The LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD echoed similar sentiments.
“Monkeypox has been a health emergency for many in the LGBTQ community for months,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement. “This fast-moving public health emergency requires every possible effort to escalate equitable delivery and production of MPV vaccines and treatments, coupled with urgent, clear and transparent information for every healthcare provider and every American.”
The Human Rights Campaign commended the Biden administration for prioritizing the response to the ongoing outbreak while also noting that more needs to be done to ensure equitable access to vaccines and treatment, especially across racial and socioeconomic barriers.
“Declaring MPV to be a public health emergency is a crucial step forward in sounding the alarm and bringing much-needed urgency to the federal response,” Torrian Baskerville, director of HRC’s HIV and Health Equity Program, said in a statement. The window for immediate action is rapidly closing. We expect that the CDC, HHS, FDA, and the White House will use this emergency to leverage every resource at our nation’s disposal to combat the virus.
“Communities across the country are in desperate need of more vaccines, increased and easier access to testing, more direct health care provider training, and funding for state and local health departments and sexual health clinics to effectively treat their patients,” Baskerville added.
“It’s imperative that we prioritize outreach to BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals to ensure equitable access to vaccines and treatment by partnering with community organizations and health clinics. A public health response that does not center equity is a failed public health response.”
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