The two health threats hanging over New York crystallize on a small section of 9th Avenue, in the Chelsea district. At 29th Street, a group of tourists form a queue in front of a drug screening mini-van. Covid-19. Not far away, tents have been erected near a clinic specializing in sexual health to accommodate New Yorkers who want to be vaccinated against monkey pox (or “monkeypox”).
Two years after being the epicenter of the coronavirus, the American megalopolis finds itself home to this new disease: it concentrates nearly a quarter of the more than 7,500 cases recorded in the United States. Faced with its rapid spread, the Biden administration declared on August 4 that the epidemic was a “public health emergency”. Decision which should allow the allocation of funding and additional tools to contain it.
“The same stigma”
Concern is very strong in the Chelsea district, where there is a large homosexual community. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 95% of patients are men who have sex with men.
Same victims, same slowness of the authorities… For many long-time activists, this crisis recalls the dark hours of the AIDS epidemic, which wreaked havoc within the LGBT community (lesbian, gay, bi, transsexual) in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1994, the peak of the plague, 50,000 people lost their lives in New York.
Paul, a gay man from New York, fears knowing “the same stigma” than at the time. “The risk is that we gays will be singled out when this disease can be transmitted by skin contact and therefore concerns everyone”, he said walking out of the vaccination site.
This stigma is already manifesting itself. A New Yorker, suffering from a non-contagious disease causing skin lesions comparable to monkey pox, was filmed on the subway by someone who did not know her. Following the broadcast of the video on the TikTok platform, she was subjected to physical threats from Internet users who thought she had “monkeypox” and spread it in a public place.
Lack of doses and means of screening
The differences between this epidemic and the AIDS crisis are many. Among them: the existence of a vaccine. But for months, the doses and the means of screening were sorely lacking in New York, due to a lack of infrastructure. Faced with the difficulties of deployment and the lack of information, local LGBT associations have mobilized. Act Up, at the forefront of raising awareness around the devastation of HIV, organized a demonstration in July in Manhattan to denounce the lack of vaccines.
Other NGOs work with the municipality to do prevention and help their members make appointments. Callen-Lorde, a Chelsea medical center for the LGBT population, which has been on the front line in the fight against AIDS, wrote in mid-July to the federal government asking for more doses. “New York has the highest number of cases per capita, but just 11% of vaccine doses,” regrets Peter Meacher, head of the association’s medical services. On August 4, 23,000 appointments were released by the City. They found takers within an hour.