London, Europe Brief news – When the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a public health emergency over the weekend, it also warned of another threat to society:
“Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus,” said WHO Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
In fact, the WHO emergency committee that had previously considered whether to issue such a declaration was unable to reach a consensus in part because of concerns about the risk of stigma, marginalization and discrimination against the communities hit hardest by the virus.
The global monkeypox outbreak appears to mostly affect men who have sex with other men. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 98% of people diagnosed with the virus between April and June in more than a dozen countries identify as gay or bisexual men, and the WHO says that 99% of U.S. cases are related to male-to-male sexual contact.
That means that the public health systems can target their messaging and interventions to the specific communities most at risk. But it also carries the risk of stigmatizing those populations, while sowing complacency in others that could still be vulnerable.
Public health experts stress that monkeypox is relevant to everyone, since it can spread through skin-to-skin contact and potentially contaminated objects like clothing or towels. And viruses can infect anyone. The U.S. has already documented two cases of monkeypox in children, for example.
“While we may be seeing clusters primarily in certain groups of people, viruses do not discriminate by race, by religion, or by sexual orientation,” infectious disease researcher Dr. Boghuma Titanji told NPR.