PUNE: Monkeypox surveillance in India should be launched discreetly and carried out in a “faceless” manner to avoid directing stigma or blame at specific groups of people, experts have said.
Anyone can get infected, but the current outbreak of the monkeypox virus—now a global health emergency—has been mainly among gay or bisexual men in the West. India has reported four cases so far, three with travel history.
Consensus is building towards targeted surveillance among HIV-infected and people indulging in high-risk sexual behaviour. But experts warned that such efforts to determine the virus spread should be carried out subtly, in a faceless manner through random testing of samples from sentinel centres and sexual health clinics. This method, they said, will prevent discrimination.
UNAIDS, which is leading the global effort to end AIDS, said in a statement that lessons from the AIDS response show stigma and blame directed at particular groups of people can rapidly undermine outbreak response.
India has some experience in discreet screening for a transmissible disease. “Monkeypox surveillance can be carried out through the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) among key sub-populations to begin with,” said epidemiologist Dr Raman Gangakhedkar.
“If there is stigmatisation, people may not come forward as it would mean indirect disclosure of their sexual identity,” Dr Gangakhedkar said.
In India, HIV surveillance is one of the first interventions in the national AIDS response.