Global Pride events are an opportunity to spread public health messages about monkeypox and must not be cancelled, an expert has told a World Health Organisation (WHO) briefing.
Steve Taylor, board member at EuroPride, said the virus – which has been mainly concentrated in the men who have sex with men community – must not be used as an excuse to shut down LGBTQ+ events.
It comes as WHO’s Europe director Dr Hans Kluge said the magnitude of the outbreak “poses a real risk”.
He told the briefing: “The longer the virus circulates, the more it will extend its reach and the stronger the disease’s foothold will get in non-endemic countries.
“Governments, health partners and civil society need to act with urgency… to control this outbreak.”
Mr Taylor told the briefing that this summer Europe will host around 750 Pride events.
“We are reassured by the clear statement from WHO that major events including Pride should not be cancelled or curtailed because of the outbreak,” he said.
“We have been working with WHO over recent weeks to develop our messages and we will encourage Pride organisations and event producers across Europe to use their events to raise awareness of the facts about monkeypox so that people can protect themselves.
“Sadly, but entirely predictably, some of those who oppose Pride and who oppose equality and human rights have already been attempting to use monkeypox as a justification for calls for Pride to be banned.
“We are pleased that the WHO guidance is clear that Pride and major events should not be affected and are, in fact, opportunities to share important public health messaging.”
Dr Catherine Smallwood, senior emergency officer at the WHO Regional Office for Europe, was asked why cases have been predominantly in the men who have sex with men community.
She said: “All outbreaks start somewhere… this virus doesn’t choose any one person against another, it’s opportunistic in its spread.
“And how it will spread will really be defined by the opportunities it has.
“It’s also a disease that has an incubation period of 21 days. We’re just over a month into this outbreak, understanding that outbreak, so it’s too early to conclude as to how it will be spreading amongst the general population.”
According to WHO, monkeypox transmission is being driven by skin-to-skin contact and skin-to-mouth contact, and there is no evidence of a change in the virus.
WHO said some 1,160 confirmed cases have been reported in 22 countries in the European Economic Area.
The UK total is 524 cases.
Most cases are mild but WHO said it had seen some complications, and some admissions to hospital.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) advises that anyone with a rash with blisters should contact a sexual health clinic if they have also had close contact, including sexual contact, with someone who has or might have had monkeypox in the past three weeks, or if they have travelled to West or Central Africa in the past three weeks.
Yvonne Doyle, medical director for public health at the NHS in England, said she was “not worried about monkeypox”.
She told the NHS ConfedExpo conference: “I’m not worried about monkeypox because we have a very good group of people advising the country about it.
“They are really on the ball and they are giving out clear and honest authentic information.
“As always, the health protection service is looking after its population in the best possible way.”