June 25, 2024

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Give those with monkeypox emergency support, advocates tell Canada

The federal government needs to step in with emergency support for people infected with monkeypox, says a coalition of community-based health advocacy groups.

In a letter to Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos sent June 6, the Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) — along with 47 other advocacy organizations — called for financial and housing support for confirmed and suspected victims of monkeypox, who are required to self-isolate until skin symptoms heal. That process can take four weeks or longer.

As of June 17, Public Health Canada reported 168 confirmed cases of the rarely fatal monkeypox, a viral disease related to smallpox, but milder.

Monkeypox symptoms include a rash of pimples or blisters on the skin that eventually form scabs before healing. The virus spreads through person-to-person contact or contact with items that have previously touched the rash or body fluids of an infected person.

While the coalition in its letter praised the government’s efforts in rolling out vaccination and public health information campaigns, it also said public health efforts to control the outbreak would suffer if monkeypox victims had no support while isolating themselves from work and public spaces.

“One of the key lessons I think we should have learned from COVID is that it’s not easy to self-isolate for a lengthy period of time,” said Michael Kwag, director, knowledge exchange and policy development at the CBRC, which advocates for people of diverse sexualities and genders.

“In order to make sure that people are able to do so, we really need to provide them with that support.”

The CBRC letter and its endorsers — which as of June 17, numbered 69 community organizations — called on the health ministry to do two things: Firstly, to fund a mechanism for CERB-style financial support for those in self-isolation, and secondly, to fund front-line community-based organizations to provide “wrap-around services” — those that deliver food and medications while the person is in isolation.

“There’s a real opportunity for the government to act decisively here, to learn some of the lessons from COVID and ensure that people who are affected by this virus are able to take all the necessary measures and precautions to help with that public health effort,” said Kwag.

“If we don’t pay attention to these social factors in context, we really risk undermining the response and potentially seeing this outbreak become worse.”

Kwag said that, based on communications with Public Health Canada and local public health authorities, it appears that the majority of the cases in Canada so far are among gay, bisexual and queer men.

But he said the virus could easily have infiltrated any other highly mobile social network or community, like university students during a spring break party, where there are similar transmission dynamics.

“It’s important to know that anyone can get or pass on monkeypox regardless of their sexuality, race or gender,” he said. “Viruses don’t discriminate on the basis of identity.”

Health Canada did not respond directly to a request for comment on the letter from the coalition.

But in a press conference Friday morning, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, addressed the issue of government support for monkeypox victims.

“We’ve learned throughout COVID-19 that people want to follow public health measures, but they need to be supported in certain instances to do so,” said Tam. “I think I would certainly encourage all levels of government to think about how this can be done.

“This is not the only infectious disease that is going to affect our communities. I think figuring out what has worked and providing the necessary support is a really good thing to do.”