Public Health During Mpox: Policymakers Share their Insights at Third Roundtable of the ESRC IPPO Project

Public Health During Mpox: Policymakers Share their Insights at Third Roundtable of the ESRC IPPO Project

Knowing and Evidencing Mpox: A Rapid Policy-Focused Study of Community Organising, Communication, and Vaccine Engagements is an ESRC-funded project investigating the recent Mpox outbreak.  The project sees the International Public Policy Observatory at UCL collaborating with colleagues from the Universities of Edinburgh, Bristol, and Manchester, and the UK Health Security Agency to fill previously-identified social science research gaps related to the outbreak.

The project is currently in its primary data collection phase which includes hosting professionally-facilitated “deliberative fora” roundtable discussions with key players and those affected by the outbreak, together with associated 1-2-1 interviews.  After two workshops focused on the experiences of activists and the third sector, and clinicians involved in responding to the outbreak, a third roundtable was held in January 2022 for policymakers, public health professionals, and others working in government who were involved in responding to the outbreak.  Here are some of the key insights from their discussion:

Public health at the time of the Mpox outbreak had still not fully recovered from the impact of Covid – but existing community infrastructure was invaluable

The experience of the Covid pandemic, the vulnerabilities this exposed, and the associated strain this put on the healthcare system including sexual health clinics, loomed large over the initial response to the Mpox outbreak.  Nevertheless, community and social infrastructure, much of it built up in the aftermath of the HIV/AIDS crisis, was crucial in the successes of the public health response, particularly when working in close collaboration across all layers of public health.

The initial Mpox response was sometimes improvised – but surveillance of the disease was a strength

At the beginning of the outbreak, there was a feeling that a lack of information and best practice led to the response in some areas being improvised.  Nevertheless, surveillance of the disease was regarded by participants as one of the strengths of the outbreak, particularly in the United Kingdom.

Strategic communication and co-ordination were sometimes felt to be lacking

Some participants felt that well-resourced strategic communication would have improved the effectiveness of the initial response from a public health perspective.  In particular, concerns over resources for community groups who often felt they were best placed to communicate with the relevant groups were raised by some participants in the roundtable.

Regional and national disparities existed in who had access to testing, treatment, and vaccination

Particularly in the early stages of the outbreak, different testing regimes led to differences in the way in which patients were seen and diagnosed.  Later on, the initial scarcity of vaccine supply also led to decisions needing to be made on the basis of perceived prioritised need.  In the UK, this saw a focus on providing vaccines to London which, while reflecting the disproportionate concentration of cases in the capital, led to regional disparities in vaccine availability.

Debates took place on how to avoid stigma while still communicating clearly

Concern about stigma and discrimination were at the forefront of the minds of those responding to the outbreak, including being careful around the kind of language used when describing it. However, some participants felt that in the attempt to avoid stimga, communication was sometimes not as clear and focused as it might have been.

Join us for the launch of the full report

The project will launch its final report with an online event via Zoom on Tuesday 28th March 2023 at 12 noon.  Register for free via the IPPO website.

The ESRC IPPO Mpox Project is led by Principal Investigator Jo Chataway and Jeremy Williams of IPPO (UCL), with Co-Investigators Jaime Garcia Iglesias and Martyn Pickersgill (Edinburgh), Tom May and Jeremy Horwood (Bristol), Maurice Nagington (Manchester), and Richard Amlôt (UK Health Security Agency).