‘Gay disease’: Monkeypox cases driven ‘underground’ by anti-gay stigma in India, says report

COVID, health, healthcare, hospital, vaccine
A health worker donned COVID kit stands outside a hospital in Srinagar, Kashmir.

As India’s monkeypox case count rose to nine this week with Kerala reporting its fifth case, patients are reluctant to seek testing or treatment for a disease that has recently afflicted gay and bisexual men.

In all, India now has nine cases — five from Kerala, three from Delhi and one Nigerian national.

Earlier, a Mumbai-based doctor Ishwar Gilada urged two of his patients to get tested. Both- a gay man and a male who identifies as bisexual- refused, even though their sexual partners caught the disease.

Gilada, who opened India’s first AIDS clinic in 1986, understood the challenges that lie ahead. In parts of the world where LGBTQ people face stigma and bias, Bloomberg reported.

They didn’t want to be the first monkeypox cases in India, the international news agency quoted Gilada as saying. “They are going underground.”

Since May, the disease has afflicted more than 28,000 people, and while it can spread through all kinds of close contact, among the cases in the US for which detailed epidemiological information is available, 94% reported male-to-male sexual or close intimate contact during the three weeks before symptoms appeared, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Friday.

In India and other countries where men who have sex with men, or “MSM,” face discrimination, sensitive and non-judgmental public health campaigns are needed to help persuade people to come forward for testing, the report quoted, Sanjay Pujari, director and chief consultant at the Institute of Infectious Diseases in the west Indian city of Pune, as saying.

Cases will be reluctant to provide information about their contacts unless a “trusted relationship” has been established, he said. “Community involvement, including MSM organizations, need to be included in the planning and implementation of the entire public-health response to monkeypox.”

Many nations haven’t yet factored this into their testing strategies or public awareness campaigns, even though the outbreak is almost certain to spread, according to Nikolay Lunchenkov, health coordinator at the Eurasian Coalition on Health, Rights, Gender and Sexual Diversity, which works on access to health treatment for gay men, other men who have sex with men and transgender people.

“Stigma is only likely to make things worse and stop us from ending this outbreak as fast as we can,” he said, as per the report.

What’s more, the mislabeling of monkeypox as a “gay disease” is tragically reminiscent of the demonization gay men were subjected to when HIV emerged more than 40 years, Milka Sokolovic, director general of the European Public Health Alliance, wrote last month.

“This leads to an instant branding of us versus them, allowing stigmatization and discrimination to raise their ugly heads yet again,” she said, as per Bloomberg.

“We must not forget how labeling HIV infection a homosexual disease during the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1980s led to indescribable suffering in gay communities.”


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