With mpox infections once again on the rise among gay men, one out member of Congress is calling for big changes to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Rep. Ritchie Torres, who represents the Bronx, is introducing legislation aimed at improving the federal government’s response to public health emergencies, citing the mpox outbreak in 2022.

Torres’ bill would require the HHS to form a department-wide strategy for reviews of major health events, including analysis from inside and outside the department, NY1 reports.

Just as importantly, the legislation would mandate that HHS set up a culturally sensitive communication strategy targeting at-risk populations. Healthcare inequity was one of the major issues facing the U.S.’s response to COVID, as the virus had a disproportionally higher impact among communities of color.

Due to decades of medical distrust, ethnic minority populations were hesitant to receive the COVID vaccine. Torres’ bill would aim to improve communication between federal government health agencies and marginalized communities.

A new report about the mpox outbreak (previously called “monkeypox”) highlights similar problems. The report finds the HHS’ poor internal communication hindered the agency’s ability to respond to the crisis. Specifically, the HHS struggled to coordinate with state and local governments and failed to reach underserved communities, such as the Bronx.

“As I have long suspected, today’s report makes abundantly clear that our government’s disease response apparatus is not properly equipped to successfully coordinate and improve its systems and processes over time,” Torres said in a press release. “In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and Mpox outbreak, it’s time we radically change our federal approach to public health.”

Mpox cases exploded in the U.S. and Europe in 2022, with the majority of cases affecting gay men. According to the CDC, there were 31,698 known cases of mpox and 56 deaths in the U.S. two years ago.

Though the White House initiated an mpox response team, the implementation was scattershot. For months, the CDC limited vaccine distribution to those who were most at-risk.

When faced with a vaccination shortage in late-summer, the White House implemented a controversial strategy where each vaccine recipient only got a fraction of a dose. Later reporting showed the HHS was partly to blame for the vaccine shortage: the agency failed to promptly ask the manufacturer to deliver bulk stocks of the vaccine.

By the time the U.S. placed its orders, the vaccine’s Denmark-based manufacturer, Bavarian Nordic, was unable to satisfy demand for months, the New York Times uncovered. The U.S. didn’t receive most of its expected vaccine doses until early 2023, far past the apex of the outbreak.

“It’s communities like the LGBTQIA+ community that pay the greatest price for the failure of the federal government,” said Torres.

The left-leaning congressman is raising awareness at the right time, too. The U.S. is seeing double the amount of mpox cases in 2024 as compared to this time last year.

One of the worst-hit areas, like in 2022, is New York. The state has dealt with 100 cases so far this year, compared with only 30 by mid-March 2023.

A rising star among Democrats, Torres was a New York City council member when he was 25 years old. He was one of the first out gay candidates in the Bronx to ever win a party’s nomination for any elected position.

After six years on the city council, Torres successfully ran for Congress in 2020. He entered D.C. alongside another out gay congressman from New York, George Santos, who was quickly exposed as a fraud.

Just months into his term, Torres filed a formal complaint against Santos. He waited only days, however, to diss the serial liar on social media.

The gays were impressed with the high quality of shade.

Santos was finally expelled from Congress late last year, after the House Ethics Committee found he used campaign funds to pay for Botox, Sephora and OnlyFans (he also lied about his personal and business backgrounds and mother dying on 9/11, among many other things)!

Following Santos’ ouster, Torres introduced legislation to revoke House floor privileges for expelled members of the chamber. The act is appropriately dubbed the “GEORGE” Rule.

As the mpox outbreak shows, we need serious LGBTQ+ legislators in Congress to fight on behalf of our community. Torres is more than delivering on his promise.

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