Experts Caution Against Stigmatisation: ‘Viruses Don’t Care About Sexual Orientation, Race’

New Delhi: Days after the WHO issued an advisory recommending that gay and bisexual men limit their sexual partners, Indian health experts and LGBTQ activists have emphasised the fact that monkeypox can spread through any close physical contact and no particular community must be stigmatised.

Even though monkeypox hasn’t been labelled a sexually transmitted infection (STI), men who have sex with other men are the group that is at the highest risk of infection currently. According to WHO expert, Rosamund Lewis, about 99% of cases are among men, and at least 95% of those infected are men who have sex with men.

“It happened in the community when there was pride month going on and there were more events in the community. It is just an episode of everyone going to a wedding and then getting Covid. So you need to look at them as victims and not perpetrators,” Indian equal rights activist Harish Iyer said as quoted by PTI. He added that the LGBTQ community already feels stigmatised and people who might have symptoms are scared to get tested for the virus now.

“Even AIDS was called a gay-related disorder because it was believed to spread in gays only. But even heterosexuals can have multiple partners.

“WHO has a precedent. They know what happened during the AIDS epidemic and their cautionary message could have been more clear. They could have been more careful with that. Why do they assume that heterosexuals don’t have multiple partners,” Iyer was quoted as saying.

There is a risk people will start distancing themselves from the community, further isolating members, trans community health expert Anmol Singh was quoted as saying. “Stigmatised thinking that we have more sexual partners or we are more into sex work than any other straight person will create more negativity,” said Singh, adding that healthcare workers needed to emphasise the fact that the virus can spread through any close physical contact, regardless of sexual orientation or race.

Dr Somesh Gupta, professor in the Department of Dermatology and Venereology at AIIMS, Delhi, noted that while the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed mainstream media to report on the latest developments in healthcare more extensively, without the temperament of medical professionals, it could be weaponised for sensationalism.

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