WHO advises men who have sex with men to reduce number of partners amid monkeypox spread

The recommendation comes in the same week that the organisation declared the virus a global health emergency.

Two men embrace as the WHO offers further monkeypox advice.
Image: Ketut Subiyanto via Pexels

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised men who have sex with men to temporarily reduce their number of sexual partners in order to slow the spread of monkeypox. The head of the organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, also urged these high-risk individuals to reconsider looking for new sexual partners, and to exchange details with sexual contacts in order to allow for a follow-up if necessary. 

The WHO Director-General spoke to reporters at a press event in Geneva on Wednesday, July 27, revealing that 98 percent of the over 18,000 recently confirmed monkeypox cases had occurred in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. The virus has reportedly spread to 78 countries, with five deaths reported, and 10% of those infected having been hospitalised.

“This is an outbreak that can be stopped if countries, communities, and individuals inform themselves, take the risks seriously, and take the steps needed to stop transmission and protect vulnerable groups,” he said.

“For men who have sex with men, this includes, for the moment, reducing your number of sexual partners, reconsidering sex with new partners, and exchanging contact details with any new partners to enable follow-up if needed.”

Rosamund Lewis, the technical lead for monkeypox at the WHO Health Emergencies Program added to this advise, urging men who have sex with men to avoid circuit parties, shirtless raves, or any “crowded settings where lots of physical contact may take place among people who may already be at risk.”

According to WHO advisor on sexually transmitted infections, Andy Seale, the “key mode of transmission” so far has been the “close, intimate, personal, prolonged contact that happens during sex”. There have also been a few cases of household transmission.

While monkeypox is currently mostly spreading among men who have sex with men, Lewis reminded all that anyone is at risk of infection.

The advice from WHO officials comes in the same week that the organisation declared monkeypox a global health emergency. LGBTQ+ activists worldwide have been calling for preventive action including a vaccine rollout plan, and on Wednesday, July 26, Irish Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced that the smallpox vaccine would be offered to gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men who are at high risk of contraction. To date, the HSPC has been notified of at least 69 confirmed cases in Ireland.

Although Minister Donnelly’s announcement was a positive development, ACT UP Dublin is calling for “swift communication” and “clear messaging” on how to access the vaccine. 

For more information on the current situation and to hear from people who have experienced infection, watch back the ‘Monkeypox Outbreak – A Community Discussion’ event hosted by MPOWER in collaboration with Man2Man and GCN. 

© 2022 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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