Nova Scotia

Open letter calls on N.S. government to 'get out ahead' of monkeypox outbreak

The former head of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network says taking a "wait-and-see approach" is unacceptable.

Nova Scotia announced its first confirmed case of monkeypox Tuesday

A closeup of a hand holding a syringe, drawing vaccine from a small bottle.
A health-care worker prepares a monkeypox vaccine in Montreal on Saturday, July 23, 2022. There have been more than 1,100 cases of monkeypox detected in Canada. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Health-care advocates in Nova Scotia are calling on the government to take more proactive and urgent action to fend off an eventual monkeypox outbreak in the province.

Representatives from organizations such as Sexual Health Nova Scotia, AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia, Dalhousie University and the Community-Based Research Centre signed an open letter that was sent to the province last week.

The groups are calling for immediate action on increased access to vaccines, financial support for people who have to isolate and miss work and more communication and guidance from the Nova Scotia government.

"It was important to start pushing the Nova Scotia government and the NSHA to actually start being proactive about this," said Richard Elliott, a human rights lawyer who signed the letter.

More than 1,100 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed across the country, including at least one in Nova Scotia.

On Tuesday, the provincial Health Department confirmed its first case in a resident. A news release said the person caught monkeypox while travelling outside Nova Scotia and developed symptoms upon their return. One close contact has been identified, said the release.

Elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, Public Health officials in New Brunswick announced that province's first confirmed monkeypox case earlier this month. In June, the province reported a suspected case of the disease. Two probable cases have also been reported in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The virus spreads through close, prolonged contact and can impact anyone, but many infections have involved men who have sex with men.

Nova Scotia approach 'makes no sense'

Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island, along with other jurisdictions in Canada, have announced members of the LGBTQ community are a priority in their vaccine rollout.

Halifax resident Jim Mohr says the Nova Scotia government's silence on monkeypox is disconcerting.

"You begin to wonder, is gay men's health not a priority?" he told CBC News. 

Monkeypox spreads through close, prolonged contact and can impact anyone, but many infections have involved men who have sex with men. (U.K. Health Security Agency/Science Photo Library)

Mohr said he plans to get the monkeypox vaccine when he travels to Ontario later this month to visit family. He said it makes no sense that the province hasn't followed the lead of other Atlantic provinces in prioritizing vaccines for LGBTQ people.

"It's just ludicrous," he said. "How can you have confidence in your public health system when throughout the country this is being deemed an emergency and strategies are being put forth and then there's just silence in Nova Scotia."

Elliott said jurisdictions like Ontario and Quebec, where the majority of monkeypox cases have been detected, have responded well to outbreaks.

He said it appears Nova Scotia is taking a wait-and-see approach, which he called unacceptable.

"The whole point of something like this is to actually get out ahead of it before you have a lot of cases," said Elliott, the former executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

While attending an international AIDS conference in Montreal a few weeks ago, Elliott said it was very easy to get a monkeypox vaccine. 

He said high-risk Nova Scotians shouldn't have to leave their province to access something that will keep them safe and healthy.

Limited vaccine supply

Nova Scotia has just 160 doses of monkeypox vaccine.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said the province is still "reserving the limited amount of vaccine for those who are at the highest risk of infection, such as people who are a close contact to a person with monkeypox."

The spokesperson said the province is in discussions with the federal government to increase supply of the vaccine and look at options for a "targeted pre-exposure vaccination program." A news release Tuesday from the Health Department said the program would be targeted to high-risk groups.

That's not good enough for Mohr, who said it feels like the issue just isn't a priority for Nova Scotia.

"If this was affecting straight, sexually active men, would they be pumping the vaccine out? Like, what's going on?"

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said there have been no confirmed cases of monkeypox in Atlantic Canada. In fact, New Brunswick reported a confirmed case on Aug. 12, 2022.
    Aug 23, 2022 11:36 AM AT

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