Ardi Pulaj

Information from the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the monkeypox a global emergency, that some cases of the disease have been identified through sexual health clinics in the communities of homosexuals, bisexuals and other men who have sex with men, was used by the former Minister of Health and MP from the Democratic Party, Tritan Shehu, to ask the authorities to raise awareness among men of the LGBTQI+ community. This was because, according to Shehu, gay and bisexual men are the main source of the spread of monkey pox. Faktoje brings statements and facts from WHO.

In a long post on Facebook, Tritan Shehu, the deputy of the Democratic Party, who in previous governments has also held the post of Minister of Health, asked the Albanian authorities to undertake an awareness campaign among the men of the LGBTQI+ community.

“Gay and bisexual men are the main source of spread of monkeypox!… I don’t understand why our Ministry of Health, the working group created to counter this infection, against which WHO has already turned on the “red light”, does not say a word about this important finding,” writes Shehu, among other things.

Shehu’s full post on Facebook

The media in Albania took Shehu’s post and turned it into news, in a copy-paste format, without going further than a statement by a politician, without receiving information from WHO and without putting the post in a context.

Demanding that Albania undertake an awareness campaign, just as it did with the campaigns during the COVID-19 pandemic, Democratic MP Tritan Shehu calls for the ministry to do the same for monkeypox.

“The protection of citizens’ health is a very wide and complex “field”, which includes also transparent, direct, and explanatory communication. Such communication should be in the form of a dialogue or clarification, and realistic, without complexities or taboos, professional and not influenced by primitive censorial interference, without concealing the findings, and without dangerous extreme excesses. We paid and still continue to pay very dearly for that abnormal “campaign” that this government carried out against Covid,” Shehu wrote on Facebook.

But his statements brought the reaction of LGBTI+ rights activist, Kristi Pinderi, who emphasizes that “one of the main principles of effective communication, especially for education in the field of public health, is that the person or institution that initiates education and information must be credible and have a good purpose.”

The reaction of activist Kristi Pinderi on Facebook

“When it comes to LGBT, Tritan Shehu is neither credible nor has good intentions. He is one of the two or three Albanian politicians who, for personal and political reasons, has turned homophobia and transphobia into a passport, made it part of his political and public identity. Albania would do well to offer the second vaccinations to all Albanians regardless of sexual orientation,” Pinderi wrote on Facebook.

Measures of the Ministry of Health

While it is true that the Ministry of Health, as Shehu says, has not undertaken a campaign on the scale of that of Covid-19, the authorities have generally informed the public about the measures they are taking for the prevention and treatment of monkeys.

The Ministry of Health says that our country is part of the low-risk countries. However, all measures have been taken and the Committee of Experts has been established.

“We have strengthened our capacities in the virology laboratory at the Institute of Public Health. Currently, 3,250 tests for the identification and diagnosis of monkeypox have arrived at the Institute during this period,” Health Minister Ogerta Manastirliu said on July 25th, as quoted by Euronews.

Photo from the news published by Euronews

According to the same report, Albanian doctors are receiving training from WHO experts to distinguish it from the sheep pox, as the signs are almost the same: temperature, redness, headache and swelling of the glands.

WHO guidelines and specifics for the infection of homosexuals and bisexuals

In a July 18th update on the disease, WHO offers public health advice for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men at the time of the monkeypox outbreak.

“A disease called monkeypox is currently breaking out in many countries that don’t usually have such cases. This can be distressing, especially for people whose loved ones or community have been affected. Some cases have been identified through sexual health clinics in the gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men communities,” says WHO.

But the call of the World Health Organization, which is mentioned in the Facebook post of the DP MP, Tritan Shehu, clarifies that monkeypox is not limited only to men who have sex with men:

“It is important to note that the risk of monkeypox is not limited to men who have sex with men. Anyone who has close contact with someone who is contagious is at risk. However, given that the virus is being identified in these communities, learning about monkeypox will help ensure that fewer people are affected and that the outbreak can be stopped,” WHO explains.

WHO document clarifying that the risk of monkeypox is not limited to men who have sex with men

WHO, in its July 2022 document, provides information on how monkeypox is spread, what to do if you think you have symptoms and how to protect yourself and others. It can be used by community leaders, influencers, health workers and people involved in social activities to inform and engage communities of men who have sex with men.

But as the WHO declared monkeypox a global emergency, epidemiologist Ilir Alimehmeti in Albania wrote on Facebook on July 27 that he was against this decision.

“There is no reason for concern at the community level. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus [the head of WHO] should better follow what the experts say, instead of taking arbitrarily decisions. Globally shouting ‘The wolf, the wolf! The monkey, the monkey!’ will undermine citizens’ trust in WHO,” says Alimehmeti , who also provides statistics on the number of people affected in Europe; homosexuals, bisexuals and heterosexuals.

Monkey pox, echo of the past for the gay community

“Monkeypox has sparked frustration and anxiety among gay and bisexual men in New York, who recall wrongdoing and discrimination during the early years of the AIDS crisis,” wrote The New York Times in a July 28th article, days after after WHO released information that some cases of monkeypox were found in LGBTQI+ men.

The New York Times article

The article in the American daily writes that in New York, there is a mass fear of the virus, which mainly spreads through close physical contact and causes excruciating lesions and other symptoms that can lead to hospitalization. There is fear of isolation and the possible stigma of an infection, as those who contract monkeypox must stay at home for weeks. In the meantime, some fear the vaccine itself, in an echo of the hesitancy and mistrust that hampered the response to the coronavirus.

“Some are worried that monkeypox could be turned into a political weapon to be used against gays and transgender people, whose rights have come under increasing criticism from US Republicans in recent months,” the US newspaper wrote.

So even in other countries where LGBTQI+ communities are targeted and subject to discrimination, the WHO advice should be read as it is, that the risk of monkeypox is not limited to men who have sex with men.

*Main photo taken from the web