In September 2011 the UK lifted its lifetime ban on blood donation from men who have sex with men. The policy change was a huge step forward in the shifting attitudes towards equality and finally allowed gay men to step out of the shadows of stigma once associated with conditions such as HIV.
However, while many saw the headlines and praised the change in attitude many people neglected to read the fine print and failed to notice there were, sadly, strings attached. Specifically that a man who has had sex with another man within the last year is still not allowed to donate blood.
Now Green Party councillors from Brighton and Hove City council are calling for an end to this ban to coincide with World Blood Donor Day (14 June).
Alexandra Phillips, who proposed the motion has said:
‘We welcome the 2011 change lifting the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood but it doesn’t go far enough to end discrimination and help the supply of safe blood.
“The current rules are still discriminatory and are not backed by logical analysis of risk. Good science would support a six month window before donating blood after a possible risk, for all donors, on the basis that tests for HIV and Hepatitis C can detect infection within that time. The health service desperately needs safe blood donations, but this discrimination bars perfectly healthy men from helping to save lives.
Councillor Mike Jones, an NHS sexual health advisor seconded the motion and cited that the logic behind the ban wasn’t sound:
“It’s absolutely crucial that blood supplies are safe and there should be proper measures in place to deal with risky individuals – but these rules mean in practice the vast majority of healthy gay and bisexual men are prevented from donating blood.
“The result is we cut the supply of safe blood to the NHS while high-risk heterosexual donors remain free to donate. The blood of a healthy gay man who is in a monogamous relationship and who has only had oral sex will not be used whereas a heterosexual man who has had multiple opposite-sex partners and who refuses to take safe sex precautions will not usually be questioned about his behaviour or have his blood excluded.”
The Department of Health’s Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissue and Organs partly justifies the ban on the higher incidence of Hepatitis B in gay and bisexual men than the rest of the population. It also noted that this infection could remain undetectable for several months under current testing. However advocates of a non-discriminatory approach say this could be addressed by a targeted Hepatitis B vaccination programme among gay and bisexual men.
We at Vada are pleased to hear the news from Brighton and while we do believe the safety of the blood supply is paramount, the march towards equality demands that possible blood donors be placed under the same scrutiny whether heterosexual or LGBT+. Infections such as HIV/AIDs and Hepatitis are not ‘gay’ diseases and the current legislation needs to be amended to reflect that.