Home South African NICD stigmatising monkeypox causes uproar in queer community

NICD stigmatising monkeypox causes uproar in queer community

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The LGBTQIA+ community has expressed dissatisfaction with a statement released by the NICD.

THE NATIONAL Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has attempted to clarify a statement the institute released on monekypox which infuriated the South African queer community.

The furore comes following a report of the first case of monkeypox in South Africa this week and the World Health Organization weighing whether to declare monkeypox an international emergency – a declaration which could escalate the global response as cases rapidly rise in parts of the world.

In a statement, the NICD said the majority of the incidents to date involve “individuals that self-identify as men having intercourse with men”.

The LGBTQIA+ community has since expressed their dissatisfaction with the statement.

The NICD responded in a statement that the purpose of the information given on monkeypox was to provide epidemiological context for the ongoing outbreak.

“It was by no means meant to profile any members of society. We would like to stress that any persons, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, can acquire monkeypox if they had close contact with someone infected with the virus,” it said.

The NICD said they condemn any form of prejudice and any hateful comments towards any individuals/groups on social media platforms.

“Sadly, we have noted undue bigotry and misinformation concerning the LGBTQI+ community. We distance ourselves from these comments,” the statement read.

It continued by saying: “Through moderating our social media platforms, we will remove any such individuals or groups participating in hate speech.”

Programmes manager at Gender Dynamix, Anil Padavatan, said it was unacceptable for any agency to say they’re spreading information like that to inform the public.

“When you’re giving out information it needs to be for a reason. They need to explain why they think it’s necessary to give out this information. This is very irresponsible. They’re sending information and saying they’re doing it for public information. My question is, as a scientific entity, what is their purpose in sending out this information?” Padavatan asked.

Padavatan said the state and organisations like the NICD need to focus on prevention instead of cure.

“They need to be providing the smallpox vaccine to people at sexual health clinics. The smallpox vaccine is highly effective in preventing monkeypox. The efficacy rate of this vaccine is 85%, which is higher than some Covid-19 vaccines. This can prevent transmission but no one is doing anything about rolling it out,” he added.

This is not about individuals taking responsibility, the state needs to take responsibility, Padavatan said.

“Individuals have no way of protecting themselves against monkeypox. This makes me question if they’re in a good position to be advising the government on an effective and simple method of prevention.

“Are we going to stand by and let another epidemic rage through our country, instead of putting these interventions in place from the beginning,” he said.

Head of the Solidarity Doctors Forum Advisory Board Dr Angelique Coetzee said the remark made by the NICD was information and not discrimination.

“People ask where it is most prevalent and this is what the statistics are showing us. This has nothing to do with being homophobic, how else do we present the statistics?”

She added: “Monkeypox is a viral infection spread through close contact, transmitted from animal to person and from person to person. This is not an STD.”

Research, advocacy and policy manager at the Triangle Project Estian Smit said gay men and men who have sex with men were vulnerable, marginalised communities, that face pervasive homophobic violence, stigma and discrimination in South Africa.

“Tremendous harm is caused when prejudice against them is further fuelled through careless statements by powerful medical institutions like the NICD.

“It is unacceptable to use the need to provide epidemiological context as an excuse for stigmatising men who have sex with men as ‘spreaders’ of a virus that could be contracted by anyone,” he said.

Smit said although the NICD’s later statement tried to denounce and distance itself from the prejudice, it shows a lack of awareness.

“Their second statement shows no awareness of the underlying homophobia in how men who have sex with men were depicted.

“One would have hoped that the lessons of HIV had by now been learned by medical institutions that carry such an immense responsibility in shaping public perception,” he said.

Trans activist Cassidy Hindley said she disagrees with the statement made by the NICD.

“I don’t see the reason for having mentioned same-sex intercourse. Monkeypox cannot be identified by sexual orientation,” she said.

“An illness cannot identify sexuality. I think it’s inappropriate to specify that the people who practice same-sex intercourse are affected.

“The queer community already has a bad reputation with HIV and Aids as is. Why must you alienate a community who already feels like we don’t belong?” Hindley asked.

Queer actor Kopo Jake Nathane said the NICD’s comments are dangerous and prejudiced.

“Especially when you consider the climate of hate crimes in the country. If the case was that it does affect LGBTQIA+ people, there should be reasoning as to why.

“If they are stressing that it can infect other people regardless of sexual orientation in gender, why is it that they’ve isolated a certain group of people? Nathane asked.

“It seems disingenuous and it seems highly problematic,” he said.

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