While cases of monkeypox (mpox) have decreased significantly in recent months, it is important to remember that the virus is still circulating at low levels in the WHO European Region. New cases continue to be reported by some Member States and the possibility of further re-introductions from outside the Region, either from endemic areas or newly affected countries, is likely.
WHO is concerned that if those at most risk in this particular outbreak – men who have sex with men (MSM) with multiple sexual partners – do not continue to be alert and protect themselves, case numbers could increase as a result of sexual contact at events attended by large regional and international MSM audiences. WHO is calling on those who could be at higher risk to continue to be aware of the symptoms of mpox, get tested and abstain from sex if they develop symptoms, and get the mpox vaccine if possible.
As we approach one year since the current outbreak of mpox was first identified in the Region, WHO/Europe will be launching a new campaign that reinforces the message that mpox remains with us and continued vigilance is still needed.
This is particularly important as we go into the spring and summer months, when a number of kink and fetish events, as well as numerous Pride festivals, are set to take place across towns and cities throughout Europe. WHO/Europe spoke to The Love Tank, a civil society organization from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is spreading the word to visitors to these events about how to protect their health.
Get Ready for It
The Love Tank is a London-based non-profit organization, which promotes the health and well-being of under-served communities through education, capacity-building and research. Recently, the organization launched its ‘Ready for It’ campaign through its Queerhealth project, targeting MSM within the kink and BDSM (sexual activity involving bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism and masochism) communities.
The aim is to make these potential festival-goers aware of mpox, and encourage them to get vaccinated, if possible, and to also consider vaccination for a range of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including human papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis A and B.
Qaisar Siddiqui, Vaccine Coordinator at The Love Tank, told WHO/Europe that the campaign aims to look at mpox awareness, vaccination and testing as part of a regular sexual health check-up ahead of this season’s events.
The campaign slogan, ‘Tix. Keys. Phone. Vax’, makes it clear to festival-goers that thinking about mpox and other STIs should be a normal part of preparing for events where sexual activity could be on the cards.
“The campaign is about doing as much as you can to look after yourself, and safeguarding your health for the future, while also having fun,” Qaisar says. “We’re finding that this message is motivating people to be proactive about getting their vaccines, as well as protecting their sexual health more generally.”
‘By kinksters, for kinksters’
A crucial element about the Ready for It campaign is the fact it was designed by the community for the community, or as they say, ‘by kinksters, for kinksters’. Qaisar explains, “We don’t come from the outside. As individuals, we have experience of attending these events ourselves, and have been part of these communities for decades. This gives us an advantage, as we are able to offer support in spaces that other organizations may struggle to get into.”
The campaign’s approach of engaging with affected communities and encouraging support and vaccination through sexual health services is one that WHO recognizes as vital to controlling and ultimately eliminating the outbreak of mpox in the Region.
Guidance for festival-goers, authorities and event organizers this festival season
WHO/Europe has recently published a catalogue of resources on mpox mass gathering and large event preparedness, which includes updated guidance and information for authorities and event organizers to ready them for this year’s festival season.
In addition, a mobile-friendly web tool is available, which provides festival-goers with an up-to-date assessment of the country situation and links to the websites of local health authorities, advice on preventive measures and WHO guidance on mpox.
Responding to mpox in the Region in 2023
The Ready for It campaign features in a new compendium of case studies that WHO/Europe will be publishing soon. The aim of this is to share examples of successful initiatives that have been launched to respond to, control and work towards eliminating mpox.
Over the coming few weeks, WHO/Europe will also be publishing a new mpox strategy, which outlines the steps that Member States in the Region need to take to prepare for the spring and summer seasons and the medium- to long-term requirements to stop sustained person-to-person transmission of mpox.