Stigma-free monkeypox information is essential to combat disease, health officials say

Published: Aug. 1, 2022 at 8:17 AM CDT
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DENVER (KUSA) - State officials in Colorado report 68 people have tested positive for monkeypox, and cases are rising internationally.

Since the beginning of the global outbreak of monkeypox, public health officials have struggled to share good information with at-risk people that doesn’t also create a stigma against certain populations.

“The LGBTQ+ community, historically has had a problematic relationship with the medical and mental health field.” Said Steven Haden, founder of Envision You, a Denver-based nonprofit focused on the mental health and well-being of Colorado’s LGBTQ+ community.

Monkeypox is spread through close or intimate contact. Most cases today are among men who have sex with men.

But public health officials stress this can and has spread beyond one population.

“When you closely associate a public health concern like this with a certain population, it prevents people who are not part of that population from seeking care,” Haden said.

Headlines matter. “The problem with that headline (focusing on men who have sex with men) is suggesting this is a disease that should only impact gay men. And, in fact, that’s not true,” he said.

And history matters, said Haden, from the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s to the modern-day political battles over LGBTQ rights.

“The community is already experiencing profound mental health challenges through stigma, discrimination, targeted harassment,” he said. “As you think about how do we target messages, especially around public health emergencies like Monkeypox, we need to be very thoughtful about how we craft and target certain populations with messaging, how do we engage people in way they feel safe and understood. And using culturally relevant and affirming language is essential.”

Haden said there is another recent example - and a warning - about the risks of targeting certain populations.

During COVID-19, the U.S. saw a rise in anti-Asian discrimination and even violence.

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