South Africa: Gay blood ban lifted for monogamous couples

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South Africa has lifted a blanket ban on gay men donating blood, in favour of new regulations which do not discriminate based on sexual orientation.

According to Mamba Online, Vanessa Raju of the South African National Blood Service today unveiled a new blood donation policy, which does not take sexuality into account, and instead favours people in stable monogamous relationships.

Under the new rules, all people – regardless of gender or sexual orientation – will be banned from giving blood for six months after having sex with a new partner, and anyone with multiple sexual partners will remain banned from doing so.

She said: “This policy would apply to me, for example, who’s just started dating someone new.

“But people who are in monogamous male same-sex relationships [for more than six months] can now donate.

“The [old] policy wasn’t meant to be discriminatory, but it was seen as such.

“We then worked closely with the Department of Health and other organisations to reassess the situation.

“It took us a while because we didn’t have local facts that warranted changing our policy, although we knew South Africa was different from other countries in terms of risk of HIV.”

Blood donation policies around the world have attracted criticism for disproportionately blocking men from donating blood if they have had anal or oral sex with another man, even in a monogamous relationship.

Johan Meyer of OUT Well-being said: “This change in the SANBS policy is wonderful and a breakthrough for the LGBTI sector.

“Now everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, is treated the same. It shows the value of good research, which can provide evidence for the basis of policy change.”

In England, Scotland and Wales, men are not permitted to give blood for 12 months after having sex with another man, effectively banning all sexually active gay men.

In Northern Ireland, men who have sex with men are permanently banned from giving blood.

Tory Health minister Jeremy Hunt has refused to repeal Northern Ireland’s lifetime blood ban despite calls for him to do so, claiming it should be a devolved issue.

Earlier this month, New Zealand decided to relax the length of its blood ban, from five years to 12 months.

In Uruguay, Mexico and Portugal gay and bisexual men are able to donate blood without issue, but blanket bans are still in place inFrance and the US.