Can smallpox avoid the stigma of the gay community? This researcher answers us

Can smallpox avoid the stigma of the gay community?  This researcher answers us


LGBTQ + – “If we allow these kinds of stigmatizing messages to spread and catch on, they will have long-term consequences,” Matthew Kavanagh warned in World on May 25. The deputy director of UNAIDS spoke about monkey pox, whose media coverage has already partially led to the stigmatization of the gay community.

“These cases have occurred mainly, but not only, in men who have sex with men,” Public Health France said in a press release dated May 23, 2022, as were other national health agencies abroad.

Christophe Broqua, a researcher from the CNRS and a member of the Institute of African Worlds, explains HuffPost “That several contextual elements favor the fact that homosexual men are – according to the hypothesis – affected more than others.” The author is a researcher Act so you don’t die! Act Up, Homosexuals and AIDSpublished in 2006.

Several organizations, such as UNAIDS and the WHO, have recently warned of a link between monkey pox and the gay community. How do you view the fact that this link is submitted?

Christophe Broqua: We see the risk inherent in every epidemic. This is a phenomenon of so-called “accused victims”, ie the fact that groups that would be among the victims of the epidemic are held responsible. This is not the case there yet, but it is a risk because we clearly see the designation of certain groups in the communication.

This phenomenon was especially visible during the AIDS epidemic, because we talked about “gay cancer” and created a list of “4Hs”, which were homosexuals, heroin drug addicts, hemophiliacs and Haitians. It is the populations that have been extremely stigmatized for being allegedly responsible for the spread of the epidemic.

What other risk can this link lead to?

In epidemic contexts, there are reflexes that can be dangerous, and here we will be afraid of coercive reflexes. This means that when we talk about the affected population, we can try to isolate it, reduce it, etc. And when the epidemic affects previously stigmatized minorities, these risks increase. They are reinforced because all “accused victims” are identified.

Can we blame the health authorities for mentioning that smallpox cases mainly affect homosexual men when the virus is transmitted regardless of sexual orientation?

In the case of smallpox, two things need to be distinguished. On the one hand, it is logical that health authorities and experts, scientists, are interested in the factors that are likely to enable the development of the epidemic. We cannot blame authorities or scientists for looking for factors that promote proliferation, and one hypothesis is that homosexuals are affected more than others. In the case of HIV, this observation helped explain, for example, the mode of transmission and the viral origin of the epidemic.

On the other hand, where we can warn, it is in terms of public communication and, in particular, the way in which the media take over information. The biggest risk is the risk of media excesses. Especially in countries where coercive risks could be stronger and where communication concerns the categories that are most stigmatized.

“It’s legitimate to ask certain questions at the scientific level, but it can be risky to make it an element of public communication.”

– Christophe Broqua, CNRS researcher

Saying certain things in France does not have the same consequences as in other countries, while an epidemic can be global, so we must anticipate the risks that not benevolent, unmanaged communication could cause. Media coverage can also lead to finger pointing to certain practices, which may provide an opportunity for some to criticize homosexuals, sexual and gender minorities. It is legitimate to ask certain questions at a scientific level, but it can be risky to make them an element of public communication.

Although scientists are now exploring all paths, can we already have some prejudices at the research level?

Mobilized knowledge can indeed be marred by prejudice, including in the areas of research and public policy. We are not necessarily in neutrality and objectivity. And we see this in the case of monkeypox: if we find out today that homosexuals are most affected, it can change quickly in terms of modes of transmission.

The element that makes the virus more prevalent among gays at the moment must be taken into account: it is a population that is particularly monitored at the health level. This was the case at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and made it possible to identify the very first patients. This may mean that these people are over-represented in reported cases. This is only a hypothesis, but in this case the neutrality of the designation of certain groups by public authorities could be questioned, especially if it proves to be irrelevant.

On the contraryCan there be a risk that we do not target the communities most affected today?

In fact, we must not neglect certain factors at a scientific or political level simply to avoid the risks of media coverage. This is what we have seen in the case of the AIDS epidemic, for example: the people involved were confronted with a double bond.

On the one hand, it was necessary to fight the epidemic in the groups where it developed, and at the same time it was necessary to do our utmost to avoid the stigma that could result in minimizing the importance of the epidemic in certain groups, especially in the late 1980s. There is a phenomenon called “AIDS dehomosexualization”.

For example, the Act Up criticized the fact that the discourse of public authorities no longer took into account the fact that the epidemic remained concentrated in certain populations, and especially in homosexual men, which required a doubling of effort. population. The same phenomenon of hiding the epidemic among migrants has been criticized by other associations.

In an ideal society, medical, scientific and political leaders should be able to identify which populations are affected by the epidemic without suffering the consequences of stigma or violence. In principle, it is not so much the way in which public authorities or scientists proceed as the status reserved for certain social groups.

See also at The HuffPost: “The links between monkeypox and Covid are not what you think”

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