BY NOREEN FAGAN – Kudos to the UK. The Department of Health has announced that it will remove the lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men.An article in Pink News states that instead, there will be a one-year deferral period, where men who have not had gay sex for 12 months can give blood. The new changes will take effect on Nov 7 in England, Wales and Scotland — Northern Ireland is still deciding what to do.
The decision to lift the ban came after a review of the policies by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs. It was supported by the major HIV/AIDS organizations in the UK — the National AIDS Trust, the Terrance Higgins Trust (THT) and GMFA, a gay men’s health charity.
Carl Burnell, chief executive of GMFA, commented that the deferral is a positive step forward “but that it’s going to leave some gay men frustrated that they still can’t donate blood.”
Burnell went on to say that it is not HIV that has kept the deferral period at one year, but rather hepatitis B. HIV can be detected four weeks after infection, but hepatitis B takes longer and has a second potential transmission window in the later stages of infection, at around 12 months.
Burnell says that if all men have shots against hepatitis B and the prevalence rate falls, it would then be time to “reexamine the evidence and reduce the deferral period even further.”
All three organizations are happy with the changes but state that they will, as Sir Nick Partridge, the chief executive of THT says, “continue to campaign to improve gay men’s sexual health to a level where the regulations can be the same for all, regardless of sexuality.”
So, is everyone happy?
No. Gay rights campaigners in the UK say the deferral still discriminates against gay men. They argue that heterosexuals who engage in high-risk sexual activity are allowed to give blood without any deferral period.
Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall, a UK lesbian, gay and bisexual charity, issued a statement: “to retain a blanket ban on any man who has had sex with another man in the last year, even if he has only had oral sex, remains disproportionate on the basis of available evidence. All those who donate blood should be asked about their sexual behaviour and assessed appropriately. However, under the new rules, a gay man in a monogamous relationship who has only had oral sex will still automatically be unable to give blood, but a heterosexual man who has had multiple partners and not worn a condom will not be questioned about his behaviour, or even then, excluded.”