Black gay community concerned monkeypox response is inadequate

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By Curtis Bunn, NBC News

Historic inequities in health care and current disparities in vaccine distribution have Black gay men worried they could be seeing a repeat of the response and stigma that came with the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.

A nurse administers the monkeypox vaccine at a walk-in clinic at the North Jersey Community Research Initiative last month. (Seth Wenig / AP file)

In July, a 35-year-old Black man from the Washington, D.C. area went from experiencing Covid-like symptoms to watching his body be overtaken by the aggravating, blistering boils of monkeypox. And yet, as he endured the agony and uncertainty that came with the disease, he said he had other, more pressing concerns. 

The man, who asked to remain anonymous because of concerns related to the stigma associated with the disease, said he was alarmed by how difficult it was to find information on monkeypox and his doctor’s seeming dismissal of his concerns about his symptoms. 

He said his case is an example of the concerning public health response to monkeypox, and, for the Black population in particular, follows a historical pattern of medical malfeasance and shortcomings.

The man said when he visited urgent care in early July, the doctor didn’t appear to take him seriously. “I asked if she was up on the latest CDC guidelines on monkeypox and she wasn’t,” he recalled. “So, she had to call the CDC to even get approval to administer me a test. She went on about how it would take an hour of paperwork and other stuff, so most doctors weren’t excited about giving the tests.”

The man, who is gay, said, “it was like a repeat performance” of some of the issues that came with the Covid pandemic, when Black people in many parts of the country had less access to treatment and vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Now with monkeypox, health care officials face the challenge of effectively communicating information about the spread of the outbreak without  stigmatizing gay men. Public health officials interviewed by NBC News said managing that balance is critical to gaining public confidence to offset the intense mistrust of the medical establishment in the Black community. The poor response by health officials, the disparities in the vaccine rollout and the stigma associated with monkeypox have contributed to men questioning how the virus is spread — despite the data, experts say.

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Learn about how some Black Americans are still struggling because of COVID-19 health disparities.

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