When the global MPOX outbreak hit U.S. soil in May 2022, local and statewide health departments and other relevant agencies responded quickly.
The mpox (formerly monkeypox) virus was first discovered in Denmark in 1958 and has appeared steadily in Central, East and West Africa over the past 60 years. However, the 2022 mpox outbreak suddenly appeared and spread rapidly throughout Europe and the United States; by August, cases had appeared in all 50 states. Outside Africa, the virus primarily affects men who have sex with men, making this a public health crisis for the gay and bisexual community. However, MPOX is no different than any virus, and this highly transmissible disease is a risk to anyone who comes into contact with an infected person.
In October of that year, the Binghamton University Q Center partnered with the Broome County Health Department (BCHD) and the Southern Tier 1 AIDS Program (STAP) to establish an on-campus clinic to provide mpox vaccinations as well as safe sex and HIV prevention education. STAP is the only nonprofit serving the LGBTQ+ community in Broome County, so the partnership with the Q Center is mutually beneficial.
“I began reaching out to STAP and the staff at its Identity Youth Center in the fall of 2022 because we serve similar communities,” said Nick Martin, Q Center Assistant Director. “We have invited STAP to campus several times for tabletop events. Several STAP staff members have participated in Q Center events, including the Pride Flag Ceremony in June and the Rainbow Festival during Fall Welcome Week. There is tremendous value in such collaborations. “
STAP was founded in 1984 as an AIDS service organization and has grown over the decades. Today, STAP provides an array of essential services, including food pantries, housing assistance, care coordination, support for LGBTQ+ youth, reentry services for ex-prisoners, hepatitis C services, sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing, medical care and Substance use treatment. Access to these services is not dependent on being HIV positive.
Since the 1980s, HIV/AIDS diagnosis and treatment have undergone fundamental changes due to the advent of antiretroviral therapy and effective prevention measures such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (commonly known as PrEP), which has played an important role in preventing AIDS. The efficiency in virus transmission is as high as 99%. However, other sexually transmitted infections are on the rise.
Although there is some controversy over labeling MPOX as a sexually transmitted infection, sexual contact is the predominant mode of transmission in currently reported cases.
James Onyeike is coordinator of STAP’s Communities of Color program, where he conducts specialized testing and helps build capacity in communities at higher risk for HIV and sexually transmitted infections.
“Thanks to advances in modern medicine, our HIV/AIDS patients can now enjoy long, healthy lives,” Onike said. “But to eradicate HIV, prevention is more important than ever, and our proactive testing approach ensures individuals get the care they need.”
Haythi Ei ’22, MPH ’23, a graduate of the Master of Public Health (MPH) program in the Decker School of Nursing and Health Sciences, is passionate about promoting health care equity. Ei serves as STAP’s MPOX Project Manager from June to September 2023 with funding from the New York State Department of Health. During this time, Ei worked with local health departments and nonprofits to organize vaccine clinics and provide education and outreach to underserved populations, including rural, LGBTQ+, and communities of color.
“I found this job through the Decker student listserv,” Ei said. “I was finishing my Master of Public Health and needed a job. Although it would be short-lived, I knew it would be a great stepping stone into the public health field.”
Ei also noted that the MPOX outbreak has impacted our home: “Last year, I was able to help many of my friends go through the vaccination process in New York. Vaccine supplies were extremely limited at the time and demand outstripped supply, but I was able to track the vaccine through the local health department and help reserve.”
Ai contacted Martin last summer to discuss a schedule for the fall clinic as her grant-funded position was coming to an end. Vaccine is available in Broome County, so Ei coordinated with BCHD staff and Decker Student Health Services Medical Director Richard E. Moose to discuss details and logistics. Decker Student Health Services stepped in to help administer vaccinations.
“We are interested in partnering with the Q Center to help provide vaccines to students,” Muth said. “We make arrangements to receive the vaccine from the county health department and provide registered nurses to administer the vaccine.”
For the fall 2023 clinic, Ei and Martin decided to expand services to provide free STI/HIV testing to any campus community member and hired Onyeike to coordinate these services.
On October 27, more than 100 students came to the clinic. Student Health Services administered the 50 doses of vaccine available, and STAP’s prevention team conducted a total of nine tests. However, demand far outstrips supply, with more than 25 people waiting to be tested.
“This turnout highlights the need for free testing for the university community,” Ai said. “Unfortunately, we have had to turn away a lot of students, so I think we are even more determined to provide additional testing and other resources to the university in the future and Serve.”
In addition to clinics like this, the Q Center supports many other collaborative health initiatives, providing needed resources to the LGBTQ+ and other communities, particularly mental health services, through the University Counseling Center. Martin also consults with the campus CARE (Counseling, Advocacy, Referral and Education) team and the Violence, Abuse, Rape Crisis Center (VARCC) to highlight the center’s services to students. The Q Center also houses a peer mentoring program staffed by paid student staff to promote inclusion, self-expression, and belonging.
“I interviewed a lot of students at my last clinic who had never been to the Q Center,” Martin said, “and there were students who didn’t identify with the LGBTQ+ community. To me, that speaks to the importance of campus collaborations and how they Being able to improve the well-being, inclusion and sense of belonging for everyone across the entire campus community.”