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Charities call on UK government to step up and make Monkeypox outbreak an urgent priority

"We now need proper leadership to ensure that the response is timely, appropriate, and reaches those communities who are most in need"

2022-09-22

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Wiki Commons

A new campaign has been launched calling on people to put pressure on the UK government to tackle the monkeypox outbreak.

The Terrence Higgins Trust, National AIDS Trust, and PrEPster have come together to call on the government's latest Health Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, to take action and are warning her that sexual health clinics are in crisis.

The charities say monkeypox has displaced other vital services, including testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV prevention, and access to contraception.

As of 16 September, the UK's Health Security Agency (UKHSA) reported 3,585 cases (3,439 confirmed and 146 highly probable cases) in the UK. 3,412 were in England. Gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men continue to be mostly affected.

Announcing the campaign on Thursday (22 September) the charities say "decisive leadership" is needed to control the outbreak following what the charities call a "lacklustre approach to tackling the outbreak," from Coffey's predecessors. 

Pointing to data from the British Association for Sexual Health & HIV that shows some clinics have seen a 90 percent reduction in access to PrEP and contraception, the charities say frontline sexual health services have had no additional funding or resources.

The charities are calling on people to email their MP asking them to urgently raise the following with Thérèse Coffey.

- Get the vaccine and accurate information on monkeypox to all who need it.

- Name a person responsible for monkeypox in the UK and the power and resources to respond to the outbreak.

- Funding to ensure there is no impact on wider sexual health services because of monkeypox.

"The situation is dire with unsustainable pressure being put on clinics and their staff."

The Terrence Higgins Trust's Chief Executive, Ian Green, says: "Sexual health services were already over-stretched and under-resourced before monkeypox, but now the situation is dire with unsustainable pressure being put on clinics and their staff."

He adds that we need to see action from Coffey to prove she takes her role seriously.

Deborah Gold, the Chief Executive at National AIDS Trust, adds that, "The monkeypox outbreak had not gone away and any new case should be a cause for concern. Services need additional resources now so they can get a grip of monkeypox and to ensure HIV services are not further impacted."

She warns inaction could set the government's target of no new HIV diagnoses by 2030 back. 

Referencing a "fractured and fragmented" response to the outbreak so far Dr. Will Nutland, a co-founder of PrEPster, says "We now need proper leadership to ensure that the response is timely, appropriate, and reaches those communities who are most in need of monkeypox vaccination and information.

"Precious time has been squandered in recent weeks and months when we could have been planning for a systematic and thought-through vaccine programme."

The symptoms of monkeypox are fever, aches and pains, tiredness, chills, swollen glands, and a rash that appears after a few days starting on the face and hands and spreads to the rest of the body, including the genitals.

In August the UKHSA confirmed reports that vaccines used to counter the outbreak had essentially run out. At the time they said: "There are global issues with supply due to vaccine availability and the necessary time to produce more vaccines," adding, "This means the further batch of 100,000 doses, which are being made to order, will be received later in September."

The Attitude September/October issue is out now.