Real talk on the current mpox response: some ideas & talking points!
These are just some main points I've prepared for talking to media outlets that I thought I'd share here on the site.
Months into this outbreak, I have yet to hear of even a single concrete, practical program, service, or support specifically for people with monkeypox. I can't wait until I stand corrected - but even then, will it only be one program? Will it be accessible to everyone who has mpox, or just those lucky few who live in a big city?
Other than Kristin Wong-Tam, no political leaders have declared any kind of state of emergency in Canada, or even SPOKEN about monkeypox at all, period. Where are all the leaders in our country, and why else would they remain silent other than they don't care about, or are afraid to even mention, gay men?
Vaccine and treatments are still being held captive by the federal government under the guise of 'national security' and the threat of smallpox bioterrorism. Gay men *are* being terrorized by monkeypox right now. We don't even need bioterrorists to release smallpox, government inaction seems to be sufficient in itself. Do we (the gay/bi/queer community) not count as Canadian citizens worthy of this protection? The US has announced how many courses of TPOXX (the antiviral that drastically reduces symptoms & changes the course of infection) are available. In Canada, in order for a doctor to get access to TPOXX for a patient, they have to request special access from their provincial Minister of Health. What will it take to justify opening up the stockpiles?
Only a few monkeypox deaths have been reported globally. But from the story of my friend in Montreal (who recently found himself being admonished by a doctor, saying he 'should have known better and used a condom' as he was waiting for emergency surgery in Montreal for an anal abscess that he'd avoided seeking care for, knowing something like that would happen), I'd wager that it's only a matter of time. It's not Monkeypox that is going to lead to people dying. It's a homophobic, insensitive healthcare system that is so incompetent for queer people that they'd rather risk their lives than go to the emergency room. That's how I think people will die.
Among gay/bi/queer men, BIPOC communities are going to be the worst hit, as is always the case. Organizations that serve them, hopefully, will be stepping up to ensure people who get monkeypox are supported and that healthcare access is facilitated. Let's also remember the people living in countries and communities where homosexuality is particularly demonized, and consider what risks and potential dangers they will face as they get monkeypox.
We keep receiving these messages that Canada is 'doing so well' compared to a lot of other countries. Just like we were hearing from Ontario about how monkeypox cases were stabilizing in the first two weeks after pride, even though we all knew that they would be exploding following the incubation period. Now over 350 people in Ontario have monkeypox, and that's only the confirmed cases. Montreal and Vancouver prides are happening right now, which we know will lead to spikes of monkeypox in a few weeks. What is the healthcare system doing to prepare for this influx? To build on this point....
First of all, most of the people who've reached out to me haven't even considered getting a diagnosis - why would they? What will the healthcare system do for them other than enforce byzantine isolation conditions on them and judge and stigmatize them?
Secondly, this is not and can't be seen as something that has National borders. Canadians will always be travelling abroad and bringing monkeypox back, and people from outside the country will be travelling here and bringing new cases. Vaccination is obviously a crucial tool, but how can it have an impact if it takes activists knocking down government's doors to get them to release any meaningful amounts of doses from their stockpiles at all? Sure, the most connected and informed of us, mostly who are white and cis-gendered and middle- and upper-class may be able to access vaccinations, but those who aren't as well connected - and again, Indigenous, Black and Two-Spirit people are central here - will again lose out.
PHAC has committed $1m to community organizations. Divide that by ten provinces, and then imagine just two organizations per province getting money (this isn't exactly the distribution, just a simple way of demonstrating how insignificant an investment that is). That would give a maximum of $50k per organization, which is barely enough to hire & pay a single junior full-time coordinator, not to mention benefits, program materials, the time it will take for them to get trained, advertising, design, translation, the list goes on. And how much of this money will go to people who actually have monkeypox? Probably none of it.