Half of New York City’s sexual health clinics shut down as the monkeypox outbreak escalated

Monkey pox skin lesions can appear all over the body, but most appear on the genitals and anus, prompting some to seek out sexual health clinics that offer free and reliable services.

“It could be herpes, or it could be monkeypox, but it makes sense to go to a provider who has all of those things on their radar,” said Joseph Osmundson, a molecular microbiologist at New York University. she also serves as an LGBTQ public health policy advocate.

After the initial challenge, there are more options for monkeypox testing. Clinics and primary care facilities that collect samples can send them to commercial laboratories for processing. Previously, only federal or local health officials could authorize testing by non-governmental health providers. Those restrictions have recently been eased. In addition to the city’s public health lab, there are at least five commercial labs that offer monkeypox testing to New York health officials, according to the Department of Health.

In addition to being free, advocates say the city’s sexual health clinics are a familiar and trusted resource in the gay community. They were considered an integral part of the city’s fight against HIV and AIDS, as well as the destigmatization of STIs. The Department of Health renamed the so-called STD facilities as sexual health clinics several years ago.

“If you’re gay and I say, ‘Find a free doctor in town,’ the first thing you think of is a sexual health clinic,” Osmundson said.

According to a city employee who is familiar with hospitals in the city, the institutions are currently full of patients who are afraid of monkey disease. (The person asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the press.) In addition to staffing shortages, they said treating monkeypox is taking longer, and in some cases, clinic staff have had to turn away waiting patients. in line until noon.

About 16 people were waiting outside the clinic in Chelsea on Wednesday. Most of them declined to be interviewed, but some said they were not seeking monkeypox testing or treatment.

Luno Reginato, 27, of midtown Manhattan, said he visits the clinic once every six months because he hasn’t been there for monkey checkups, and the wait times are longer than what he experienced before the pandemic. The time was about 15 minutes. That morning he waited 20 minutes.

“It’s really important to have a resource like this for people who don’t have health insurance,” she said.

What if there were no sexual health clinics?

In June, Varma wrote a The New York Times he argued that due to reduced government funding and the lack of clinics specializing in sexual health, there may be no more cases of monkeypox in the United States.

El-Sadri is currently working on a survey to determine the incidence of monkeypox in New York. According to him, he suspects that there may be mild cases where the infected person recovers on his own without seeking help.

He said he wasn’t surprised to hear about the health department’s staffing problems. Public health workers across the country have reported being burned out by the pandemic and leaving their jobs.

El-Sadr said given the circumstances, the city has done a good job of expanding access to monkeypox testing by removing barriers to providers sending samples to labs. This, in turn, allowed him to diagnose faster.

At an unrelated news conference Tuesday, Mayor Eric Adams said the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Ashwin Wasan did not inform him about the shortage of staff.

Although Adams focused on the delivery of monkeypox vaccines, monkeypox was prioritized.

The commissioner, Adams added, “takes what he needs.”

Correction: A previous version of this story missed the clinic’s closing date.

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