Blood service to study gay population

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The South African National Blood Service (SANBS) is standing by its policy of not allowing gay people to donate blood, despite agreeing to a study of the South African gay population this week.

“Until such data is available which can enable SANBS to review its policy, the status quo will remain,” an SANBS statement said today.

“The way forward is to approach independent experts in the fields of epidemiology, statistics and medical research who can devise a scientific study that is expected to provide relevant local data, which [the] SANBS can use in its decision-making process.”

Gay and lesbians organisations were outraged last month when the SANBS issued a statement asking gay people not to donate blood. Dr Robert Crookes, head of the blood service said: “A man who has had sex with another man within the last five years, whether oral or anal sex, with or without a condom … is not permitted to donate blood and must please not do so.”

He insisted they are following international policy.

Over the next month an independent body of researchers will gather research and statistics on South Africa’s gay and lesbian population, as well as findings of similar studies that have been done in the past. If “no evidence” is found, the body will be commissioned to do its own research.

Dawie Nel, director of gay and lesbian organisation OUT in Pretoria welcomed the idea. He told South Africa’s Mail and Guardian the criteria of the SANBS on its blood questionnaire should be based on “scientific evidence” and that the service should not take international findings and apply them to South Africa.

“Men who have sex with men significantly are at a higher risk compared to any other group”, but the focus of the SANBS “should not focus on particular groups, but rather on the high-risk behavioural practices of both gay and heterosexual groups”, said Mr Nel.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said in January that gay men should not be excluded from donating blood on the basis of their identity or HIV status, but rather on the basis of epidemiological data or research, which, according to the SAHRC, does not “convincingly exist in South Africa.”

The commission has also previously suggested that the SANBS, the Medical Research Council and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research look into the applicability of international findings, which label homosexuals as a high risk group, in South Africa.