EXCLUSIVE: Blood service defends gay discrimination

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PinkNews.co.uk has challenged the National Blood Service to explain why it continues to discriminate against any man who has ever had sex with another man.

Currently, a man who has ever had oral or anal sex with another man, even with a condom, is barred from donating blood for life because they are deemed to be more at risk of passing on sexually transmitted diseases.

A National Blood Service spokesperson said the ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood is “justified” despite the fact that lifting the order would dramatically increase depleted stocks.

Campaign group BloodBan.co.uk has branded current guidelines “outdated and discriminatory” and called for an overhaul of the policy.

Despite the fact that the National Aids Trust (NAT) state that black Africans are an equally high risk group for blood-borne STDs, they are not subject to a blanket lifetime ban in the way that men who have had gay sex are.

The only other people who are permanently banned from donating blood are individuals who have ever received money or drugs for sex and individuals who have ever injected, or been injected, with drugs.

Guidelines from the UK Blood Safety Leaflet specify that any individual donating:

“must wait twelve months after sex with a partner who has, or you think may have been sexually active in parts of the world where HIV/AIDS is very common, including most countries in Africa.”

The twelve-month wait is not an option for gay or bisexual men, even one who has been celibate for most of his life.

A man who received oral sex once as a teenager is branded a health risk forever.

In addition, while the number of heterosexuals contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) is rapidly increasing, the donation guidelines remain the same.

The NBS claim that excluding men who have had sex with another man has reduced the risk of HIV infections via transfusions.

A spokesperson told the Metro newspaper this morning that the ban was justified and had been “extremely successful.”

Yet every blood donation is automatically tested for HIV, Hepatitis B and C and other diseases, which in effect should negate any risk whether or not gay and bisexual men are banned.

A spokesperson for the NBS told PinkNews.co.uk:

“Screening heterosexual’s blood and not the blood of homosexual men is neither a question of cost, nor of sexuality, it is a question of safety.

“The National Blood Service screens every donation.

“Of those who had made previous donations before testing positive for HIV, between October 1995 and June 2006, 48 out of 116 individuals were men who in a subsequent interview admitted they had had male to male sex.”

48 out of 116 individuals “admitting” to gay sex represents 41% or two in five cases.

The three in five heretosexual infections are not regarded as grounds for a ban.

The spokesperson continued:

“Current screening tests for blood still fail to pick up a very small number of infected donations, for example from people with very early HIV infection who will still test negative for the markers of infection.

“So for the sake of blood safety, donors from high risk groups are asked not to donate.”

The latest Health Protection Agency findings released by National AIDS Trust show diagnoses of heterosexuals infected in the UK have increased by 50 per cent since 2003.

Figures for the Health Protection Surveillance Centre 2007 also reveal that of the newly diagnosed cases of HIV in 2007, 53% were acquired through heterosexual contact while only 21% were through male-to-male sexual contact.

Yusef Azad, Director of Policy and Campaigns at the NAT said:

“It is absolutely paramount that the blood supply is protected and it remains the case that gay men are the largest group affected by HIV in the UK.

“However, we do believe that the current rules should now be reviewed in the light of changes in practices in other countries, and alternatives such as a time limited ban be actively considered. “

Russell Hirst, founder of the Bloodban campaign, told the Metro that an alternative would be to require gay and bisexual donors to be tested for STDs beforehand and bring an ‘all clear’ certificate with them when giving blood.

Yet NBS show no intentions of changing their policy, while continuing to use the insulting form of words of “high risk group” to describe every single man who has ever had any sexual contact with someone of their own sex.

“Asking people in high risk groups not to donate has resulted in an excellent safety record,” the NBS spokesperson said.

“Since testing for HIV was introduced in 1985 there have been only three cases where donors who were in the “window period” were responsible for transmission of HIV through blood transfusions.”