Education, fighting stigma key in battle against monkeypox

Officials worry about return to HIV-AIDS shame of '70s, '80s

Officials are warning against repeating the mistakes of the 1970s and '80s as health agencies work to stem the spread of monkeypox.

Speaking at a press conference Friday, Vancouver Centre MP Hedy Fry recounted the fear and shame cast upon gay and bisexual communities during the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“This is not anyone’s fault,” Fry, who worked as a physician at that time, said. “I had to deal with the stigma and the fear and the anxiety.”

She was part of an announcement that saw the Government of Canada allocate funding to three community groups to increase prevention, education, awareness, and anti-stigma activities related to monkeypox.

While the bulk of cases being reported is in men who have sex with men, they are not the only group susceptible to the virus.

"It is important to remember that anyone regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and race can be infected and transmit monkeypox if they come into close contact with someone who has monkeypox," says Fry.

She said getting correct information to at-risk communities is key to preventing infections and improving health outcomes, recalling the damage caused by widespread misinformation about COVID-19.

"We knew that it wasn't spread by drinking out of a glass or by being in the same room with someone, but people had such misinformation and it hurt and harmed a lot of people in the community,” she said of HIV-AIDS.

As of Aug. 11, there are 98 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Canada. The majority, 81, are in Vancouver Coastal Health, with 9 in Fraser, 6 in Island, and 2 in the Interior Health region.

Canada has confirmed 1,059 cases of the virus.

Monkeypox is mostly spread through contact with sores or blisters. It can also be transmitted through items like bedding or towels that have monkeypox virus or respiratory droplets, such as coughs and sneezes during close, face-to-face contact with a person who has monkeypox.

The recipients of the monkeypox funding are the Community Based Research Centre (CBRC), H.I.M. Health Initiative for Men Society in Vancouver, and the Queer and Trans Health Collective in Edmonton.

CBRC Executive Director, Jody Jollimore, said the queer community tends to be health-literate, meaning they are interested in doing what they can to prevent spread. He noted how rates of HIV testing and those searching for virus prevention tools tend to be higher among queer men.

“When you see things like pop-up vaccination clinics … there are line-ups around the [block],” he said. “We are interested in prevention and interested in getting these vaccines.”

Published 2022-08-12 by Tyler Marr

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