Apathy in Latin America in the face of monkeypox “condemns people to suffer”, according to activists

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LGBT+ rights activists in Latin America have called on governments in the region to take action to prevent the spread of monkeypox, saying the unwillingness to provide vaccines and diagnose cases is hurting gay and bisexual men.

Latin America has confirmed around 16% of the more than 50,000 cases recorded worldwide in the recent outbreak, almost exclusively in countries where the disease is not historically endemic. (See graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/3QsW88m)

However, a Latin American network of gay rights activists believes that governments are drastically underestimating the extent of the outbreak, in part due to discrimination against men who have sex with men, among whom the disease has so far circulated more extensively by sexual contact.

“The worst that can happen is that they decide that this is going to be controlled only as herd immunity,” Dr. Jorge Saavedra, director of the AHF Institute -AIDS Healthcare Foundation- told Reuters.

“The injuries are very painful. They cannot condemn people to suffer (…) It would be a sadistic state policy. State sadism,” he remarked.

The activists, who gathered Thursday in Mexico City at an event to call for stronger state responses, said it was incredible that Mexico – one of the most populous and visited countries in Latin America – had only a third of the number of cases of monkeypox compared to Peru, which confirmed its first case a month later.

Sexologists do not have evidence that Peruvians have much more sex than Mexicans, Saavedra said at the event.

The situation is especially worrying in Mexico, according to activists, where there is only one centralized diagnostic center, subjecting people to long waits and traveling long distances.

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Local clinics for people living with HIV, who are at risk of much more severe effects from monkeypox, have meanwhile been inundated with patients, they said.

The Government of Mexico issued a statement in June in which it discouraged messages that link homosexual and bisexual men with monkeypox to avoid discrimination.

“Forty years ago we were stigmatized and not treated because of the HIV and AIDS pandemic,” said HIV researcher Ricardo Forcada. “Now, under the pretext of not stigmatizing us, they are not serving us.”

Forcada added that the network of activists is prepared to take all necessary legal actions, including appealing to the Mexican human rights commission. They expect governments to invest in targeted health campaigns and order vaccines.

We don’t want this to become an endemic issue that is forever here among us, like another form of sexual transmission,” Saavedra said.

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