Kody Kinsley Advocated for Health Equity for Gay and Bisexual Men

July 10, 2024 · Becky Kolinski

In the latest episode of the Quality Matters podcast, NCQA’s Andy Reynolds speaks with Kody Kinsley, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The interview took place during June—Pride Month—and we wanted to highlight how Kinsley uses his position to advocate for health equity for gay and bisexual men.

“In some ways, being a gay man is just one part of my identity, but it gives me great pride to be able to have some perspective in areas we’re struggling with,” says Kinsley.

Speaking out and fostering collaboration to solve problems are the cornerstones of his approach to public health crises.

Speaking Out About Increased Risks of Mpox

Mpox disease (formerly called Monkeypox disease) appeared on the scene when health care organizations and policy makers were exhausted from dealing with the COVID pandemic. Kinsley spoke out and advocated for equity in preventing, diagnosing and treating Mpox disease.

“I wrote some national op-eds on that issue out of the gate because people were really worried about how to talk about it. And I felt strongly that we needed to give people the facts,” said Kinsley.

Looking at the data, it was clear that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men were at the highest risk of infection. But there were inequities in vaccine distribution. For example, although 70% of Mpox cases in North Carolina were in Black men, less than a quarter of the vaccines were given to Black individuals. Kinsley developed a plan to prioritize vaccine distribution to communities that were most affected by the virus.

“The folks in the gay community were disproportionately impacted by that disease. Coming out as a gay man to talk about that, and roll up my own sleeve when it was my turn to do it, was an important thing,” said Kinsley.

Collaborating to Remove Restrictions on Blood Donations

At the height of the COVID pandemic, the nation was experiencing a critical blood shortage. Kinsley urged the FDA to lift the 3-month waiting period for sexually active gay men to donate blood. He was joined by health officials from nine states and the District of Columbia.

“Blood is something for which there is no replacement. Whether you have cancer or you’re in a car accident, you could need a blood donation. And because of stigma, for a long time, gay and bisexual men were excluded from donating blood,” says Kinsley.

Kinsley pointed out advancements in testing that allow screening of blood donations for HIV—meaning that the risk of HIV-infected blood entering the blood supply is “negligible.”

“I was very proud to lead the charge, and be joined by many of my colleagues from across the country, to call on the FDA and to join the American Medical Association and many other entities to say we’ve got the technology now in testing,” says Kinsley.

The FDA removed the restriction in May 2023.

Listen to the entire conversation with Kody Kinsley on the Quality Matters podcast here.

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