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‘When a group is stigmatized, when a disease is stigmatized - people are very afraid of talking about it or seeking health services.’

Yerina Ranjit.jpg
Rebecca Smith
/
KBIA
Yerina Ranjit wears a blue polka dotted dress and glasses. She smiles at the camera.

According to the CDC, Missouri currently has 125 diagnosed cases of monkeypox, but stigma could be preventing people from seeking help.

Yerina Ranjit is a health communication researcher and scholar at the University of Missouri, and she spoke about how the stigma that comes from attaching a disease to one at-risk population can be harmful, as well as keep all people at risk of monkeypox from seeking care.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.

Yerina Ranjit: So, from the pandemic, we have learned that communication and information is really, really key to really understanding the disease, curbing the infection, letting people know how it, you know, spreads and how it transmits - and also diminishing people's fear of the unknown, right?

So, when there is a huge communication gap from public health authorities, from media organization about how it transmits, there is a lot of chance of filling that gap with rumors.

And with social media, it's really really easy to do that. So, when there is a gap of real good information and accurate information, there is a great chance of rumors to sprout and spread very easily.

So, when a disease - it affects [a] certain population, there is this tendency to associate that disease with that group of people, right?

So, at this point in time, because the way that monkeypox transmits - it's through bodily fluid, but it's not necessarily through sex. But because when you talk about sex, it might be more eye catching - people tend to grab on to those information, and therefore they tend to sensationalize that, right?

That happened in HIV because we didn't have a lot of information, but also the media organizations back in the 80s, didn't do a very good job of, you know, focusing on how HIV transmits versus they focused on who.

MO DHSS Monkeypox flyer-for-all.pdf

Therefore, at this point in time, I think we need to be very careful about associating monkey pox with a certain population, right? Because it does transmit through sex, but it also transmits through various other bodily fluids. If you have a cut in your skin and if you have a bruise and you're exposed to the virus - you can easily get the disease.

So, therefore, I think the focus really needs to be how it transmits, and what are some of the symptoms that, you know, people should be aware of - if they do get exposed versus who is getting this, right?

It's important to focus on it, but it's not as pertinent in terms of destigmatizing illnesses or viruses that go around.

"Basically that anybody can get it. It's not just a certain population, and therefore, I think the focus should be on how instead of who."
Yerina Ranjit

We have seen through research that when individuals are stigmatized, they don't seek treatment, they don't go out and talk about it, they try to keep them to keep it to themselves, and when that happens, the chances of them transmitting the disease is very high.

So, when a group is stigmatized, when a disease is stigmatized - people are very afraid of talking about it or seeking health services for that because people fear that they might be diagnosed with monkeypox, and then the stigma follows, right?

And then we've seen that through stigma, people have been discriminated against, there's a fear of violence, as we have seen with HIV AIDS,

So, it's really, really important that we talk about how it transmits, you know, basically that anybody can get it. It's not just a certain population, and therefore, I think the focus should be on how instead of who.

You can find more resources on Monkeypox from the CDC or https://health.mo.gov/living/healthcondiseases/communicable/monkeypox/

Rebecca Smith is a reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. She was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, and graduated with degrees in Journalism and Chemistry from Truman State University in May 2014. Rebecca comes to KBIA from St. Louis Public Radio, where she worked as the news intern and covered religion, neighborhood growth and the continued unrest in Ferguson, MO.