Limited funding hampers charities’ early monkeypox response

Two biopharmaceutical companies will give $5 million and $500,000, respectively, to nonprofit organizations in the United States and abroad that are responding to the growing monkeypox outbreak. The pledges come as the early philanthropic response to the disease, which disproportionately affects LGBTQ people, has been fairly muted compared with the early days of COVID-19.

Gilead Sciences, which produces HIV medicines, is providing up to $5 million to nonprofits in the United States and abroad that are working to prevent and treat monkeypox. It will give $350,000 each to GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Black Justice Coalition, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Those nonprofits will collaborate on a public education campaign and create materials about vaccination, treatment, and prevention that can be shared with organizations across the country.

Gilead will also give another $500,000 to NMAC, a nonprofit working to end the HIV epidemic, which will use the money to lead an advocacy campaign focused on ensuring monkeypox vaccines are distributed equitably and to fight vaccine hesitancy. The remaining $3 million will be distributed in grants of up to $50,000 to Gilead’s grantees outside the U.S. that are also seeing a rise in monkeypox cases.

ViiV Healthcare, another pharmaceutical company focused on HIV treatments, will make $500,000 in grants to nonprofits in the United States helping with outreach, education, and testing related to monkeypox.

Both companies have a history of helping LGBTQ people deal with health issues and supporting people who have HIV/AIDS or are at risk of getting it.

Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, director of learning and partnerships at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, said she is not aware of any other major grants for the disease.

“It’s possible, and this has been my prediction from the beginning, that a lot of the funding for monkeypox is going to be very local,” she said. “It will be community foundations and small corporations giving to organizations in their own city or town.”

That smaller scale of giving is in stark contrast to the billions of dollars in funding that foundations and corporations gave in the early days of COVID-19. By May 2020, U.S. grantmakers had given $6 billion in response to the coronavirus spread, according to Candid.

The differences in giving for COVID-19 compared with monkeypox in part stems from differences between the diseases. COVID-19 was a new, not fully understood virus that spread aggressively and could be fatal. Monkeypox is a disease that has been around for decades, spreads through close physical contact, and is very rarely fatal, according to the CDC. Gulliver-Garcia said that the difference also can be attributed to the fact that the current monkeypox outbreak so far has largely affected men who have sex with men.

“This, for me, is very reminiscent of the late ’80s, early ’90s, when HIV and AIDS were considered to be a queer disease,” she said. “Mainstream media didn’t pay a lot of attention.”

Government and mainstream philanthropy only began to take more action, she said, after HIV and AIDS began to spread more broadly.

Because the philanthropic response has been limited, LGBTQ nonprofits and health centers on the front lines responding to monkeypox have struggled to finance their work. Leaders said they had to find money in their budgets to pay for the monkeypox response since few grants are available. Their efforts also have been hampered by a limited supply of vaccines and the spread of misinformation, several nonprofits told the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Gilead’s decision to donate to nonprofits was prompted by concerns its officials were hearing from grantees starting in May, said Jane Stafford, executive director of corporate giving at Gilead.

Stafford said grantees told her and colleagues, “We need dedicated funding that we can use to put out education, to have vaccine clinics, to make sure that we have enough (personal protective equipment) for staff that are currently working, and then, in some cases, to provide funding for temporary staff to come in and help these organizations.”

With more than 14,000 cases of monkeypox reported across the country, California, Illinois, and New York have joined the federal government in declaring states of emergency.

The outbreak has largely affected gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, although the virus can be spread to anyone through close, skin-to-skin contact. About 94% of people who have tested positive had sexual or intimate contact with men within the three weeks before their symptoms began, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As a result, LGBTQ organizations with experience serving gay and bisexual men and health providers that treat patients with HIV/AIDS are helping. According to federal government estimates, 41% of people who have gotten monkeypox so far have also been HIV positive.

One of the biggest obstacles health providers have faced is the sparse supply of vaccines. The United States had only 2,400 doses of the vaccine on hand when the outbreak began, which would have been enough to vaccinate just 1,200 people. The Biden administration ramped up supply, recently announcing an additional 1.8 million doses will be available. The demand still has outmatched the number of available vaccines, according to federal health officials.

As of August 16, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation had distributed about 1,300 vaccines. And about 11,780 people are on the nonprofit’s waitlist of eligible recipients. TPAN, a health provider in Chicago that serves people with HIV and those at risk of getting it, has distributed 400 doses. But the demand has been triple that amount, according to Kara Eastman, the organization’s CEO.

Racial disparities in the vaccine rollout also remain a persistent challenge. In New York City, where monkeypox cases have been particularly high, Black people received just 12% of the doses despite making up 31% of those at risk of contracting the disease, the city’s Health Department reported.

Daniel Driffin, a consultant with NMAC working on an equitable monkeypox response, said he worries that people will get frustrated and stop seeking chances to get vaccinated.

Nonprofits and health providers responding to monkeypox have also seen a strain on their resources after dealing with COVID-19.

“It has been both a time-intensive and a resource-heavy response that has not seen a financial support behind it in the same ways that we saw happening early on (with COVID-19),” said Tyler TerMeer, CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. The organization has tapped into its budget to create a hotline to field questions about monkeypox and pay more staff to host vaccine clinics during the evenings and weekends.

TPAN in Chicago held an online appeal to raise funds that attracted $3,000 in donations to deal with monkeypox.

“This is a time for philanthropy to step up and identify groups that they are already supporting and offer up resources to help us,” Eastman of TPAN said. “Because while this is being inaccurately categorized as something that’s impacting only one group in the country right now, it’s a public-health issue.”

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This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Kay Dervishi is a staff writer at the Chronicle. Email: kay.dervishi@philanthropy.com The AP and the Chronicle receive support from the Lilly Endowment Inc. for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. The AP and the Chronicle are solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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