LGBTQ+ groups from across the political spectrum have joined forces to demand that the government step up its efforts to tackle monkeypox or risk it becoming endemic in the UK.
So far there have been over 2,600 cases of monkeypox in the UK, the majority of which affect gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men (GBMSM). The United States declared a public health emergency over the virus on Thursday, which followed the World Health Organization (WHO) last month calling it a global emergency.
British health authorities have called for calm, but now groups in Westminster have called on Health Secretary Steve Barclay to take action due to monkeypox ‘causing real fear and anxiety’.
‘We stand united as LGBT+ groups from all political parties in calling on the government to treat the monkeypox outbreak as a public health emergency,’ letter to Barclay signed by LGBTQ+ groups for Conservatives, Labor , the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the Scottish National Party said.
“We cannot afford to let monkeypox become endemic in the UK. Fortunately, we now have the tools to stop this outbreak and prevent further health risks. We ask you to do so urgently.
The letter, which was also signed by sexual health charities including the Terrence Higgins Trust, said the government must prioritize communication and vaccinations.
“We need clear, non-stigmatising messages, delivered directly to GBMSM about the symptoms of monkeypox and what to do if you suspect you have the virus to inform and reassure people (rather than the current approach of broadcast to all who consistently mention the GBMSM),” said the authors, which included the Conservatives’ Luke Black and Labour’s Matthew Lloyd.
“Messaging needs to reach communities at high risk of contracting monkeypox, through targeted messaging on apps, online and in queer media. Vaccinating those most at risk of monkeypox needs to be a priority if we want to have a chance of preventing the virus from becoming endemic in the UK,” they added.
“We are very concerned that while mass vaccination events are a great way to build trust that vaccinations are taking place, they can be a driver of inequality, especially when there is a undersupply of bites,” Lloyd said separately. “It’s time to get improved systems and buy more of this much-needed vaccine.”
The Terrence Higgins Trust has also called for improvements in the vaccination effort. The charity’s head of policy, Ceri Smith, said: ‘We need urgent policy action to bring the rapidly rising number of monkeypox cases in the UK under control.
“That’s why we are grateful to LGBT+ groups across political parties who are coming together to call for a public health response commensurate with the scale of the problem as gay and bisexual men continue to make up the vast majority of cases.
“We need much better coordination, increased vaccine supply, improved delivery and an injection of money into sexual health services to treat monkeypox, which will also reverse the impact the epidemic is already having on STI testing and treatment, PrEP provision and contraceptive services.
The NHS announced late last month that it was stepping up its monkeypox vaccination program in London as new supplies of a vaccine became available.
Vaccination experts have recommended that gay and bisexual men at high risk of monkeypox exposure be offered the Imvanex smallpox vaccine.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘Thousands of monkeypox vaccines have already been given and the NHS is working to get those most at risk on board quickly. We have purchased over 150,000 vaccines and are working with partners, including the NHS and the UK Health Security Agency, to share targeted, non-stigmatising communications with the LGBTQ+ community.
“We are enabling local authorities to invest in essential frontline sexual health services by providing over £3.4 billion through the Public Health Grant.”