National AIDS Trust questions gay blood donor ban

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A leading HIV charity has accused the National Blood Service of not doing enough to challenge a lifetime ban on donations from men who have had sex with men.

The issue has come to prominence in the national press this week after it emerged that the NBS has been banned from advertising at two student unions because of the blanket ban.

The NBS insists it targets sexual behaviour and not sexual orientation, but in effect virgins are the only gay men whose blood will be accepted for donations.

There is increasing pressure for the ban to be lifted in favour of more sophisticated models.

Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of the National AIDS Trust, told

“We would never condone a ban on advertising for blood donation, as maintaining the blood supply is vitally important, but this action by some student unions shows the strength of feeling about the current restrictions on blood donation.

“NAT is not convinced by the justification put forward for the current lifetime ban and we are campaigning for the National Blood Service to review it.

“The test for HIV used by the blood service is not the most reliable test currently available.

“Furthermore, the only two options considered as an alternative to the current lifetime ban are no restrictions at all and a one year ban – but there are alternatives such as the New Zealand five-year ban.

“A lifetime ban becomes increasingly indefensible when, for example, there would be next to no one alive with undiagnosed HIV fifteen years after they were infected.

“The National Blood Service has said it is willingly to review the ban if there is any new evidence. But it should be doing more.

“Instead of an essentially passive approach it should be proactive in questioning this outdated policy and looking for an alternative to a blanket ban.”

The NBS said in a statement:

“While safer sex through the use of condoms, does reduce the transmission of infections, it cannot eliminate the risk altogether. The reason for this exclusion rests on specific sexual behaviour rather than the sexuality of the person wishing to donate.

“There is, therefore, no exclusion of gay men who have never had sex with a man, nor of women who have sex with women.

“The policy would only be changed on the basis of clear evidence that patients would not be put at jeopardy. In addition, scientific advances in virus testing and inactivation are monitored.”

Similar blanket bans have been abolished in South Africa, Spain and Italy.