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US response to monkeypox evokes disturbing memories of AIDS era in activists

 


France, a filmmaker whose works include the Oscar-nominated How to Survive the Plague, said, “The reason people feel the similarity so strongly right now is because of the surge in anti-LGBTQ sentiment that preceded HIV. It is also due to the A documentary on AIDS.

He and other advocates have criticized the Biden administration and the global health community for moving too slowly into monkeypox testing and vaccines and failing to clearly communicate the risks of the disease to the overwhelmingly affected communities. increasingly criticized. male. The first confirmed monkeypox case in the United States this year was recorded on May 18. There are now over 6,320 of them nationwide, and this number is expected to grow significantly.

“Acting to understand how we have unbelievably spread it and how the federal government can quickly find a way to step up testing and conduct proactive oversight to ensure “I’m incredibly angry that we weren’t able to wake up the disease. It means that a vaccine and a cure will be here when you need it,” said the global health activist and Yale University epidemiologist. One Greg Gonsalves said:

The administration finally seems to be listening to these concerns. On Tuesday, in a move to improve response and outspoken criticism, President Joe Biden appointed key officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as national monkeypox response leaders. did.

Longtime FEMA employee Robert Fenton won the White House’s trust by helping launch the government’s network of Covid vaccine sites during the Covid vaccine rollout. He is expected to manage logistics at the heart of the response, including efforts to quickly distribute tests and vaccines. Fenton’s deputy, Demetre Daskalakis, is best known for leading the CDC’s work on his HIV/AIDS and engaging the LGBTQ community in public health issues. – Hit area.

The question is whether such a move was too slow.

Until the past few weeks, the White House has largely relied on the health department to direct the response to monkeypox. But department leaders have struggled to coordinate a sprawling effort, leading to vaccine and testing shortages and fierce criticism from activists and health experts. are still hampered by difficulties in collecting data from the United States, allowing cases to spread almost unseen across the country.

Pointing to the lack of proactive and persuasive responses from governments around the world, Gonzalves said that after the AIDS, and especially Covid-19, pandemic, we needed to be better prepared. The U.S. government, in particular, is stuck again, he argued. He condemned, “Our public health and pandemic preparedness in general is terrible, but the kind of wishful thinking from the White House is just amazing.”

Unlike AIDS, there is a vaccine for monkeypox, but the disease is spreading rapidly and survivors of past crises are forced to see parallels to the present one. Most important of all, there is a growing awareness among activists that in the decades to come, public health officials can make mistakes and make LGBTQ people feel like an afterthought.

“You have the tools this time, right?” said France. “They had the vaccine and had community connections that could send messages about prevention.”

But as Biden administration officials are quick to point out, there are also obvious shortcomings alongside this. And not just because there are no known monkeypox deaths in the United States. The White House’s attitudes toward affected communities also vary widely.

Harold Phillips, director of the White House National AIDS Policy Office, said the Biden administration is taking the current epidemic seriously.He was the press secretary during the Reagan administration. joked about AIDS With reporters at a press conference.

“There are some similarities in communities affected by this disease: the pain, the suffering, the fear of stigma, but this time in the White House, it was no laughing matter,” Phillips said.

After the first confirmed monkeypox case in the U.S. in May, the Biden administration ordered 36,000 vaccinations within two days, and 300,000 the next month, according to a White House aide. Despite initial shipments, shortages continue, especially in the hardest-hit cities. Within a week of this, states of emergency were declared in California, Illinois, and New York over the spread of the disease.

“Our country’s public health is underfunded and fragmented,” Phillips said, adding that the current outbreak is occurring amid an ongoing pandemic and the emergence of increasingly virulent Covid variants. pointed out.

“We all said during Covid that we need to be prepared for what comes next, and I don’t think we expected this to come so quickly,” he said.

The move to add a federal coordinator to lead the response has faced cautious optimism by some supporters. It acknowledges that little can be done to stop the monkeypox epidemic at this time. is predicted.

Meanwhile, monkeypox outbreaks have increased exponentially, with cases doubling every week. Health experts worry that if the epidemic does not slow down soon, the country will lose hope of containing the disease and it will become entrenched as an indefinite threat.

France said more vaccines alone would not work unless governments better coordinated messages to affected communities. There may be more empathy for people who are in. But without constructive communication, nothing works as planned.

“Those of us like myself who came in during the plague of HIV 15 years ago when there was an effective treatment, learned how to position ourselves in a safe and effective way,” said France. rice field. “Here’s the message. No one knows where those vaccines will be, if they will come, or if the second dose will come.

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