What Men Should Know

Gays (if celibate) can donate blood

In February 2011, at the annual Big Bleed at Stellenbosch University, Mr André Crous, a PhD student in Film Theory, filled in the blood donor questionnaire and answered in the affirmative to a question directed at male donors as to whether they have engaged in anal or oral sex with another man in the previous six months. Crous was not allowed to donate blood because of this.

The Western Province Blood Transfusion Service (WPBTS), stated in response that “the deferral is not meant to discriminate [on the basis of] sexual orientation, but to ensure that potential risk based on sexual behaviour is eliminated”. The WPBTS would also deny someone the opportunity to donate blood if he/she is in a new heterosexual relationship. A relationship that started within the previous six months is classified as a new relationship.

Crous pointed out that the question about anal and oral sex is only directed at male donors. Crous has been with the same sexual partner for the past two years.

Currently, South Africa has a six-month gap between sex and donation. It is a year in Australia, Sweden and Japan.

The lifetime ban on blood donations by homosexual and bisexual men will be lifted in England, Scotland and Wales. After over 20 years of being banned from donating blood, gay and bisexual men have been given the (partial) green light to donate blood in the UK.

In the UK, a lifetime ban was introduced in the early 1980s as a response to the Aids epidemic and the lack of adequate HIV tests.  The British National Health Service ruled out any gay man from giving blood, after 5000 haemophilia patients contracted HIV and Hepatitis C from a batch of contaminated donor blood.

Ministers in the three countries have agreed to let men who have not had sex with another man in the past 12 months to donate from November as banning homosexuals from being donors is believed to be strong grounds for discrimination. The ban had been questioned both on equality and medical grounds. Ministers of the three countries accepted the argument and said they would be relaxing the rules. Northern Ireland is expected to make a decision soon.

The British National Blood Service screens all donations for HIV and other infections. However, there is a "window period" after infection during which it is impossible to detect the virus.

Prof Deirdre Kelly of the UK government's Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs, said there had been advances in the testing of donated blood which had significantly reduced the chance of errors and had reduced the size of the "window period".

Other at-risk groups, such as people who have been sexually active in high-risk countries, are already banned from donating for a year.

The findings were accepted by health ministers and a one-year ban will come into force in England, Scotland and Wales on 7 November.

Several other countries have already come to similar verdicts.

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