A coalition of organizations is sounding an alarm about how LGBTI, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex people are more likely to catch and suffer from coronavirus than the rest of the population.
The National LGBTI Cancer Network organized an open letter signed by over 100 organizations that lists reasons LGBTI people should be taking extra precautions to avoid the disease, which was just labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
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The letter asks public health organizations and agencies, health professionals, and the media to understand that LGBTI people are “particularly vulnerable” to coronavirus, listing three main reasons.
First, LGBTI people are 50% more likely to smoke than cisgender, heterosexual people, according to the letter. Coronavirus is a respiratory disease and smoking – and likely using e-cigarettes as well – reduces immunity to respiratory diseases and makes recovery from those diseases take longer.
Second, LGBTI people have higher rates of both cancer and HIV, both of which can compromise a person’s immune system. While doctors don’t believe that people living with HIV whose viral loads are undetectable are at significantly greater risk of getting coronavirus, many LGBTI people either don’t know they have contracted HIV or are not managing it well.
Last, LGBTI people face barriers when it comes to access to health care. Discriminatory attitudes are common enough among medical professionals that some LGBTI people avoid or delay health care, and job discrimination and LGBTI homelessness mean that many LGBTI people don’t have access to health care.
The organizations note that the estimated three million LGBTI elders in the U.S. are particularly at risk. Coronavirus has a mortality rate of eight to 15 percent for people over the age of 70, according to the World Health Organization, and elder LGBTI people may be more reticent to seek medical care when needed.
The letter concludes with a list of measures people in positions of power can take to help address LGBTI people’s risks when it comes to coronavirus, including targeted public health campaigns, training health care workers to provide equal care to LGBTI people, and working with LGBTI health organizations.
“As LGBTI+ community and health leadership, the undersigned organizations offer to stand shoulder to shoulder with the mainstream health leadership to make sure we learn from history and do not allow any population to be disproportionately impacted or further stigmatized by a virus,” the letter concludes.