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NACHC, Community Health Centers Focus on Monkeypox As a Public Health Threat

Contact: Amy Simmons Farber 202/309-0338

Bethesda, MD – As the spread of the monkeypox virus continues, marginalized groups are having difficulty accessing tests and vaccines. In response the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) has joined a coalition of more than 30 organizations in sending a letter to congressional leadership calling for more resources and support. The letter comes as the World Health Organization has declared monkeypox a global health emergency with cases surging in a matter of weeks. Co-signed by public health organizations and LGBTQ+ advocates, the letter calls for a robust federal response, including additional resources to ramp up efforts on the ground to contain the spread in communities.

Community Health Centers, often the canary in the coal mine of public health threats, are responding to cases while still fighting the spread of COVID variants in underserved communities. They are also educating patients about the risks [see examples from Callen-Lorde and Whitman Walker.]

“As public health leaders who represent health care providers, researchers, and infectious disease experts, working on the frontlines to protect Americans from this emerging threat, we are concerned with how quickly this outbreak has been allowed to spread in the U.S. In the span of four days last week, the number of cases in the U.S. more than doubled from 866 identified cases to 1,814, and persistent obstacles to testing suggest that the actual case count is underreported,” the letter states. “Additional funding is needed for clinical services such as testing, treatment, and vaccine distribution to respond effectively. In addition, we need investments in partner services, education, community outreach, and research to ensure an effective monkeypox response and limit the spread of the virus in our communities.”

Monkeypox (or MPV) is related to the smallpox virus, which has been eradicated worldwide. It is spread through close, intimate contact with someone who has been infected. Symptoms can include headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and a rash that can look like blisters on the face, inside of the mouth and other parts of the body.

NACHC is putting together information resources and other clinical guidance, working in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), and other stakeholders to bring the latest and most up to date tools to health centers in the field. [View NACHC’s compilation of monkeypox resources.]

“NACHC continues to track developments regarding the monkeypox alongside our federal partners and the health center community,” said Ron Yee, MD, Chief Medical Officer at NACHC. “Monkeypox affects us all in the community and what we have learned from our work with HIV and COVID is that it’s critical to work together as trusted messengers to ensure accurate information reaches affected communities. We also know that to accomplish this task, we need real-time data collection efforts, a public health system that can respond swiftly and accurately to infectious disease outbreaks, and effective interventions.”

“Community Health Centers are the front line in ensuring equitable access to limited MPV resources for those most at risk for poor health outcomes,” said Anthony Fortenberry, Chief Nursing Officer at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York, NY and Chair of the NACHC LGBTQ Health Task Force. “Located in high need areas of underserved communities and open to all regardless of ability to pay, we serve as a model for improving access to care, reducing health care disparities, and achieving health equity.”

NACHC is also preparing an education session on monkeypox for its national conference, the Community Health Institute & EXPO, scheduled for Chicago next month.

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Established in 1971, the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) serves as the leading national voice for America’s Health Centers and as an advocate for health care access for the medically underserved and uninsured.

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