“Just because someone is exposed to Monkeypox (MPX), doesn’t mean they are (MSM). But it’s also homophobic to minimise how vulnerable MSM will be to MPX.”
Associate Professor at the University of Auckland, Peter Saxton is among those behind a five-page letter to the Prime Minister calling for urgent Government action to prevent the escalation of Monkeypox.
The letter, co-signed by The Burnett Foundation Aotearoa and The New Zealand Sexual Health Society, calls for the establishment of an Monkeypox response team that includes Government leadership, clinical experience, and community expertise, and for this team to be appropriately resourced. They also call for clear communication from the government when taking accountability and responsibility of key figures in the Monkeypox response such as clinicians and community organisations. The letter also discusses the need for prioritised vaccines, stigma-free communication, support for self-isolation, and the lack of resources in the health system.
Saxton says that the majority of transmitted cases have involved sexual contact, with 95% of cases in Europe, the US, and Australia being found in gay and bisexual men. Saxton said the best way students can show their support “is to call out stigma against men who have sex with men (MSM), including takatāpui tāne… MSM including takatāpui will be the solution to the MPX epidemic in Aotearoa, not the problem. We need risk reduction advice and vaccines to reach MSM as a priority. In turn, that will protect everyone”.
Monkeypox has been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Currently in New Zealand only four cases of Monkeypox have been detected, with these cases self-isolating and posing little risk to the community. However, Saxton is among experts who have been pushing for a stronger and quicker response to the virus.
According to the Ministry of Health website, Monkeypox doesn’t spread easily between people, and requires contact either directly with an infected person (includes sexually/intimately), with an infected person’s clothing, or through respiratory droplets from an infected individual. Initial symptoms are likened to a fever, and after a few days shows a rash that goes on to create scabbing and lesions. Symptoms often resolve by themselves after a few weeks. Sexual health experts have identified that a vulnerable community to Monkeypox is gay men and are wanting the Government to provide more support to vulnerable groups.
The Green Party stated in a media release that they are backing the letter and is calling on the Government to commit to an elimination plan for Monkeypox and prioritise Rainbow communities. The Greens say that COVID-19 should have taught the Government that going hard and early on an elimination strategy works, and that a similar approach should be taken against Monkeypox. As far as an elimination strategy, Saxton says, “Beyond MSM, we’re not seeing widespread Monkeypox transmission to other parts of the Rainbow community, even though Pride events in Europe involved all Rainbow folk and straight allies. Again, that’s another signal about how Monkeypox is and isn’t being transmitted. The good news is once someone is diagnosed and supported, Monkeypox generally stops with them, and vaccination will be key”.
As of 27 July, WHO reported in their virtual press conference that more than 18,000 cases of Monkeypox have been reported from 78 countries. Over 70% of cases reported are from Europe, and 25% are from the Americas. Only five deaths have been reported, however about 10% of cases are being admitted to hospital to manage pain. The conference discussed a wide range of health issues, and the Monkeypox elimination strategies that were discussed aligned with the letter’s ideas of prioritising the right communities for vaccines.