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Monkeypox in Australia: what the social sector needs to know

8 August 2022 at 6:24 pm
Nevena Spirovska
We can acknowledge that the majority of transmissions of monkeypox virus are within a specific community without creating or adding to stigma, writes Nevena Spirovska. 

Nevena Spirovska | 8 August 2022 at 6:24 pm


Monkeypox in Australia: what the social sector needs to know
8 August 2022 at 6:24 pm

We can acknowledge that the majority of transmissions of monkeypox virus are within a specific community without creating or adding to stigma, writes Nevena Spirovska. 

The situation with the monkeypox virus (MPXV) is rapidly changing. The World Health Organization declared the global MPXV outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, the strongest call to action the agency can make, in late July. Several days later, Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, declared MPXV a “communicable disease incident of national significance.” A National MPXV Taskforce has also been established in partnership with key community health organisations working alongside clinical experts to monitor and respond to the evolving MPXV situation.

MPXV is a rare disease that is caused by infection with the MPXV virus. It may be transmitted through skin-to skin contact, contact with infected surfaces or items, and respiratory droplets. The federal Department of Health states that MPVX is a viral zoonotic disease that occurs mostly in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa but can spread to other regions. It is part of the same family of viruses as the variola virus, which causes smallpox. MPVS is a rare viral illness that can become serious. For most people, symptoms will clear up on their own after two to four weeks.

Though most reported cases in Australia had been linked to returned travellers local transmission is now occurring. A significant number of recent cases have been identified among gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men (GBMSM). One reason for this is the active health-seeking behaviour of these groups about sexual health. However, according to health advice, anyone can contract MPXV as it is spread through close or intimate contact. As of August 4th, there were 57 confirmed and probable MPXV cases in the country.

Australia has had great success with HIV prevention and control, and can draw on this infrastructure, community groups, and expertise. Australia’s LGBTQ+ health organisations – which have their origins in the HIV response – are central to an effective prevention and management response. They have already issued alerts, informing community members about the mode of transmission, symptoms, and the need for symptomatic individuals to seek medical attention and isolate themselves.

These types of community-led initiatives are critical in fostering trust in the health response. Organisations and advocates alike have acknowledged that the stigmatisation of the gay community from the AIDS crisis still persists, which has led to a lack of discussion in the media of MPXV as a virus in which 98 percent of cases are currently found in men who have sex with men globally. Despite this, LGBTIQ+ organisations have made it a priority to understand and communicate to key communities what MPXV is, how it is contracted, its symptoms, treatment, and prevention in a non-judgmental, clear, and positive way.

On 4 August, Minister for Health Mark Butler confirmed that 450,000 doses of Bavarian Nordic’s new third-generation MPXV vaccine had been secured, thanks to the advocacy of community advocates, LGBTIQ+ health organisations, and clinicians. The first shipment of approximately 22,000 doses is expected to arrive in Australia this week. The rest will be delivered later this year and in 2023.

States and territories will receive the MPXV vaccine immediately upon delivery and manage the vaccine rollout within their jurisdictions in conjunction with sexual health clinics. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has also released its clinical guidance on vaccination against MPXV, identifying sections of the community facing greater risk of infection – including  GBMSM and sex workers – as priority recipients for the nationwide rollout.

The social services sector can be part of the response by learning about MPXV, supporting the work and health promotion of LGBTIQ+ health organisations, and staying up to date on the latest MPXV information through the Australian Government’s Department of Health website.

Whilst acknowledging that the majority of transmissions are happening with GBMSM, the key point remains that it is never acceptable to stigmatise people because of a disease. Anyone can get or pass on MPXV, irrespective of their sexuality.

MPXV information via the Health alerts by state:

Further information is available via LGBTIQ+ community health organisations:

Nevena Spirovska  |  @ProBonoNews

Nevena Spirovska is an LGBTIQA+ activist, campaigner and proud community volunteer. She has dedicated herself to the for-purpose sector and has been highly engaged with grassroots movements and campaigns supporting LGBTIQA+ equality, human rights, and addressing the drivers of structural disadvantage. Twitter: @NevenaSpirovska

Tags : LGBTIQ, monkeypox,


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