Spain’s gay community takes action as monkeypox spreads

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Madrid (AFP) – Whether it’s abstinence, avoiding nightclubs, limiting sexual partners, or pushing for a rapid rollout of the vaccine, Spain’s gay community is on the frontlines of the monkeypox virus and taking action.

“With this monkey thing, I prefer to be careful…I’m not having sex, I’m not going to parties, until I’m vaccinated and have some immunity”, said Antonio, a 35-year-old Madrid who declined to give his surname.

Antonio, who often went to nightclubs and sometimes to sex parties, decided to take action as the cases continued to rise.

Spain reported its second death linked to monkeypox on Saturday.

Outside of Africa, the only other such death occurred in Brazil.

More than 18,000 cases have been detected worldwide outside Africa since early May, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Spain is one of the most affected countries in the world. The country’s health ministry’s emergency and alert coordination center put the number of people infected at 4,298.

As cases rise around the world, the WHO has called on the group currently most affected by the virus – men who have sex with men – to limit their sexual partners.

Before going on holiday abroad, a holidaymaker said he would avoid ‘risky situations’.

“I wasn’t going to sex clubs anymore and I wasn’t having sex either,” the 38-year-old explained.

Lack of vaccines

“It’s not like Covid, the vaccine already exists, there’s no need to invent it. If it wasn’t a weird disease, we would have acted more – and faster,” Antonio said.

Like other members of the gay community, he feels the authorities have not done enough.

NGOs have denounced a lack of prevention, a shortage of vaccines and stigma linked to the virus.

This is despite the WHO declaring the monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency.

Early signs of illness include high fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a chickenpox-like rash.

The disease usually heals on its own after two to three weeks, sometimes taking a month.

A smallpox vaccine from Danish drugmaker Bavarian Nordic, marketed as Jynneos in the United States and Imvanex in Europe, has been shown to protect against monkeypox.

It took Antonio three weeks to get an appointment to get vaccinated, after logging on to the official website every day at midnight.

Dates “go as fast as tickets to Beyonce’s next concert,” joked another, referring to the gay icon.

So far, Spain has only received 5,300 doses which arrived at the end of June.

Contacted by AFP, the Spanish Ministry of Health declined to comment.

“Anyone Can Catch It”

Nahum Cabrera of the NGO FELGTBI+, an umbrella group of more than 50 LGBTQ organizations from across Spain, stresses the urgent need to vaccinate those most at risk.

That doesn’t just mean gay men, but anyone who has “regular sex with multiple partners, as well as those who frequent swingers’ clubs, LGTBI saunas, etc.,” he said.

“It risks creating a false sense of security among the general population, and they relax into thinking that they are safe and that this only happens to men who have sex with men,” said he declared.

The target age group for vaccination is 18 to 46 years old, he added.

The elderly are vaccinated against smallpox, which was eradicated in Europe in the early 1970s.

“We are facing a health emergency… which affects the LGBTI community, so people think that it is insignificant, that it does not matter,” said Ivan Zaro, of the NGO Imagina MAS (Imagine More ).

“This is exactly what happened 40 years ago with HIV.

Cinematographer Javier spent three days in hospital in early July after being infected.

After three weeks of isolation, a challenge after the pressures of Covid, he told his family and friends about it.

The 32-year-old, who is in a monogamous relationship, said he still doesn’t know how he caught it.

“I’m warning everyone,” he said. “It’s an infectious disease, anyone can catch it.”

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