China faces mpox surge as LGBTQ+ stigma hinders preventative efforts

Chinese authorities are now treating mpox similarly to Covid-19, meaning they may take emergency measures to prevent transmissions.

This article is about the spread of mpox in China. The image shows the chest and abdomen of a doctor, who wears blue/green scrubs and crosses his arms.
Image: Pexels: Karolina Grabowska

China is facing an increasing spread of mpox as experts believe advocacy efforts are being hindered due to the State’s oppressive anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes. According to the World Health Organization, the country is experiencing “sustained community transmission”, recording the majority of new cases globally in September.

The first mpox infection in China was reported a year ago this month, which was said to have been imported from abroad. Months later, in July 2023, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the virus was spreading domestically, with 106 cases confirmed in June. This number rose to more than 500 in August, and it should be noted that some suspect the actual figures may be much higher than the official count.

On Wednesday, September 20, the nation’s government began treating mpox similarly to Covid-19, meaning that authorities may take emergency measures to prevent transmissions, such as restricting public gatherings.

Due to the fact that the majority of cases associated with the 2022 outbreak have been reported in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM), experts believe that China may be facing a surge due to its oppression of the LGBTQ+ community.

In recent years, there has been increased censorship and social stigmatisation of queer activists in the country, as well as unexplained closures of community spaces such as the Beijing LGBT Centre. This makes it much more difficult to circulate information about the infection, as well as making people less likely to get tested.

“Public health concerns are one of the only ways of discussing gay men in public discourse,” medical sociologist Chuncheng Liu said. “(But) you cannot rely on scaring people to come to you for help.”

While there is no vaccination available yet in mainland China, state media reports that a domestic vaccine is being developed.

Meanwhile, Ireland has also seen an increased spread of mpox in August and September, with new infections recorded for the first time since spring. According to a report published by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, there were a total of five cases, all of which were among gbMSM who were mostly unvaccinated.


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