'When I was sick with monkeypox, what got me through was knowing I wasn't alone'

When Martin Joseph got monkeypox, he didn't think eight weeks later he'd be hosting a podcast about it. In fact, he doesn't want to.

"I would love to not have to produce a podcast with all the information, I would love to not have people messaging me and say that they found the information out from my podcast".

Martin says he feels he has to be producing content that gives information and shares resources about monkeypox - blaming what he says is a relative lack of attention from authorities and the media.

"There was a moment, right when monkeypox hit, when we saw it everywhere and it said 'monkeypox, the new Covid, it's coming'. And then they went 'oh it's only affecting gay people - don't worry about that, don't panic'."

Reflecting back on his own experience back in July, Martin praised the work of sexual health clinics like 56 Dean Street in London, but he said "the wheels fell off" in terms of his care beyond this.

At an emergency GP appointment he was put in an isolated room while medics closed the door behind him and called him on the phone to communicate. He was sent to A&E where he waited, in isolation, for hours before being prescribed antibiotics for an infection.

Anonymously at first, Martin wrote for the QueerAF newsletter. Not long into that process, however, he says he felt it was important he put his name to it.

"As I started to write, I thought about it, and I thought 'I didn't want to tell my story as me, because I was embarrassed or there was shame and stigma attached'. That told me that I had to do it - because I didn't want to.

"When I was really sick and unwell, the only thing that got me through was listening to other people's voices and knowing that I wasn't alone."

Martin now hosts a podcast, sharing resources and information. Credit: QueerAF

The latest report from the government puts the total number of confirmed moneypox cases in the UK at 3,585. Most of these were diagnosed in England and the majority of cases were in gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men.

Martin says homophobia has played a part in the country's response to the outbreak.

"When I was sick and I went Twitter and I typed in 'monkeypox gay' - don't do it - because I got to see firsthand the opinions of people."

It's also reflected in the fact there's not a specific monkeypox vaccine, Martin says.

"52 years we've seen monkeypox in humans, and we have no vaccine".

Martin says the UK and Europe's response has been shaped by not caring about the groups it impacts - whether that's those in parts of West and Central Africa where monkeypox has been endemic for 50 years, or minorities impacted during this outbreak in the UK.

Though there's no specific monkeypox vaccine, a vaccination programme is underway in the UK for the most at-risk groups, using the smallpox vaccine.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) say vaccines against smallpox are expected to prevent or reduce the severity of the monkeypox infection.

After the full course, which is two doses, "almost all people develop antibodies and should therefore have a good level of protection against monkeypox," health authorities say.

Since our interview, it's been reported in the Financial Times that health secretary Thérèse Coffey has rejected advice from officials to procure additional doses of the vaccine.

Martin says this, again, is indicative of what he calls relative inaction from authorities.

Dr Merav Kliner, Incident Director at the UKHSA, told ITV News: "Our surveillance systems were the first in the world to detect the current outbreak and we acted immediately to tackle the spread of Monkeypox, moving early to secure 150,000 vaccines amid global shortages.

"This has meant the UK has enough doses to offer everybody at highest risk two doses and the vaccine is being rapidly delivered across the country to those who need it. 

"Throughout this outbreak we’ve focused on reaching those that are most likely to be affected - we’ve worked continuously with a range of partners, including LGBT+ and sexual health organisations and LGBT+ media and social media platforms, to raise awareness, alert people to the symptoms and support those affected. 

"Following a clear peak in cases in mid-July, we’re continuing to see significantly fewer cases reported in the UK and we are grateful to everyone who has followed advice about potential symptoms, isolated as part of this outbreak or come forward for a vaccination to help limit transmission".

The What The Pox podcast is available on QueerAF's website. The government is publishing and updating information about monkeypox on its website.