by James Stout, San Diego, Ca

Hep A - is it really that big of a scare?

Russia has been a bit of a theme in my articles recently, there seems to be something of a crusade to delegitimize the LGBTQ+ community coming out of Moscow and this week has seen a new angle of attack. Moscow recently issued guidelines for Russian nationals planning to attend pride event in Europe and these included a vaccination against Hepatitis A. Fortunatley this affront has been met with a reaffirmation by international courts that LBGTQ people have a right to free expression.

23 Jun, 2017

The WHO has noted an uptick in cases of Hepatitis A with a report released this week stating that "In Spain, Hepatitis A cases reported in 2017 are almost eight times higher than the average number of cases reported during the same period between the years 2012 and 2016. Most cases are men with ages between 15 to 45 years old, and MSM (men who have sex with men) are the most affected group." It doesn’t quite follow that anyone going to pride would be at risk though. Obviously LGBTQ+ people are a broad category which goes beyond MSM, and one would hope that those organizing pride events would be encouraging safe sex practices.

Hepatitis A is generally not fatal and none of the 1200 reported cases in this outbreak have ended in death. However there is a global shortage of the vaccine and the WHO is rightly worried about the spread of the disease. Those considering attending pride events should certainly consider a vaccine if it is accessible to them. Meanwhile, practicing safe sex is, as always, a smart choice. The risk of catching Hepatitis from food or water is relatively low and should not be a major concern for readers travelling to pride event.

The same is not necessarily true for Russia which has had its own issues with Hepatitis A, notably an outbreak in drinking water just two years ago. Russia has a much higher incidence of Hepatitis A than neighbouring countries and many countries advise the same vaccination for travel to Russia. The global lack of vaccines means that, for many in Russia who can not afford expensive medication, getting the vaccine is not possible. This amounts to little more than an attempt to scare people out of attending the pride events across Europe this summer and further cut Russian ties to the wester LGBTQ+ community.

Meanwhile the European Court of Human Rights ruled this week that Russia’s so called“gay propaganda” law, which prohibits the promotion of, and basically the discussion of, LGBTQ+ issues “reinforced stigma and prejudice and encouraged homophobia". Under the law, private individuals convicted of promoting "homosexual behaviour among minors" can be fined up to 5,000 roubles (£67; $85), while any one operating in an official capacity can be fined then times as much. Businesses and schools found to be promoting LGBTQ+ people, issues or lifestyles can be fined up to 500,000 roubles. Russia claims that the law protects the morals and health of children but the ECHR disagreed. In its decision, the ECHR stated that the law violates Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case focused on three activists, one of whom was arrested for holding a sign outside a children’s’ library stating that gay people could be great and citing Tchaikovsky as an example.

It seems that, as in many other areas, battle lines are being drawn between Russia and the West when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. These conflicts will not always be as open as they are in Cheneya, or in Russia where the activists charged under the Gay Proapaganda law have won the right to damages of between €8,000 (£7,000; $8,900) and €20,000. However it is up to all of us to see, and oppose the insidious creeping of the anti LGBTQ+ agenda and the slow erosion of hard won rights. If you are considering travelling this summer, the WHO has great guidelines on disease risk and prevention and we suggest you check those, and any advice given by your healthcare provider, before you travel.