To efficiently stop the spread of mpox, public health officials need to strike a delicate balance between destigmatizing the disease by dispelling the idea that it affects only gay men and prioritizing the MSM communities that are most vulnerable to it.
“Working with the people that are affected, helping to have non-stigmatizing language and communication, has been hugely effective in helping to curb the outbreak” in the West, Kuppalli says.
So far, some local LGBTQ communities in China feel they’re on their own.
M, who works for a queer rights organization in Guangzhou and asked to be identified only by his first initial given the sensitivity of his work, points out that the CDC recommended wastewater monitoring specifically near venues that MSM communities frequent, including bars, clubs, and saunas. He says this has become controversial within the Chinese LGBTQ community, and that some organizers feel this puts a target on their backs.
Another LGBTQ organizer, Suihou, who works in the central province of Hubei and asked to be identified by a pseudonym, tells MIT Technology Review that even though contact tracing information is supposed to be strictly confidential, he has seen one example in which an mpox patient’s private information, including phone number, national ID, address, and HIV status, was leaked and passed around on social media.
Organizers like M and Suihou are doing their own work to mobilize a disease response. To spread information about mpox prevention, M has recently sent text messages to 700 people and hosted in-person lectures that reached over 900 people.
And Suihou has worked with one mpox patient closely, helping him get testing and treatment. Not all the medical workers they’ve encountered have been trained on how to handle the sensitivity of these cases, he says; during the contact tracing process, the doctor told the patient that this disease is a problem for “your kind of people.”
Suihou warns that some people may avoid seeking medical help altogether, particularly given the lack of state support for mandatory quarantine and contact tracing.