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WATCH | SA monkeypox case trends as ‘men who have sex with men’ sparks stigmatisation concerns

The arms and torso of a patient with skin lesions due to monkeypox during an outbreak of the virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1996 and 1997.
The arms and torso of a patient with skin lesions due to monkeypox during an outbreak of the virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1996 and 1997.
Image: CDC/Brian W.J. Mahy/Handout via REUTERS

A video clip of a health expert explaining trends seen in countries where monkeypox is endemic and its spread among men who have sex with men has sparked calls for education about the disease to prevent the stigmatisation of gay and bisexual men. 

During a media briefing on Thursday, the National Health Laboratory Service’s Prof Kholeka Mlisana provided details about of some trends seen among patients with monkeypox.

Mlisana said cases of monkeypox have been detected outside central and northern Africa,  where it has always been endemic. 

“Why are we talking about males who have sex with men? It has always been endemic in central and northern Africa, but lately there have been cases of monkeypox outside Africa. They have been mainly in men who have sex with men.”

Mlisana did, however, indicate transmission is not limited to gay and bisexual men.

“It does not mean it is only transmitted through men who have sex with men, but any direct contact,” she said. 

“Why is the trend among men who have sex with men? That's probably how it was introduced in countries outside Africa.”

She said monkeypox is difficult to transmit because it only spreads through direct physical contact with an infected person, unlike respiratory viruses such as Covid-19. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said some cases of monkeypox in non-endemic countries have been detected through sexual health clinics and identified in communities of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.

Transgender people and gender-diverse people may also be more vulnerable in the context of the current outbreak, said the organisation.

“It is important to note that the risk of monkeypox is not limited to men who have sex with men. Anyone who has close contact with someone who is infectious is at risk. However, given that the virus is being identified in these communities, learning about monkeypox will help ensure as few people as possible are affected and the outbreak can be stopped,” said the WHO. 


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