The chair of Pride London, Paul Birrell, has spoken out against the ban on allowing gay men to donate blood.
“While the National Blood Service is correct to ensure that there are adequate protections on donated blood, it is preposterous to state, as it currently does, that a single sexual encounter between two men should lead to a lifetime ban on being able to donate blood,” he argued in an article for the Independent.
Birrell was writing in advance of this year’s Pride London event, which aims to raise awareness of the campaign against the National Blood Service’s existing policy.
“The National Blood Service says gay men are a high-risk group for HIV. This is simply spurious,” argued Birrell. “This caution is not extended to other high-risk groups, who merely have a temporary ban imposed on them.”
It has been argued by various medical authorities that the existing checks are not in themselves homophobic, but a response to the risk posed by homosexual men.
A quarterly report issued by the National Blood Service in 2006 states: “The evidence for barring MSM [men who have sex with men] from donating blood is soundly based though frequently and vocally contested by those who claim that our policy is unjustified… as more heterosexuals than MSM in the UK are newly diagnosed with HIV each year.”
The report added that one in 2,000 men who are not homosexual or bisexual are diagnosed with HIV every year, compared to one in 1,000 for MSMs.
Similarly, the AIDS information website Avert argued: “In the UK and USA especially, the percentage of young gay men who have been infected with HIV and the percentage with AIDS are much higher than those among other groups such as heterosexual people or children.”
However, the British Medical Journal says: “Numbers of HIV infections acquired through heterosexual intercourse in the United Kingdom have risen in recent years but continue to represent a small proportion (< ten per cent) of all HIV infections diagnosed in heterosexuals in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland each year. Homosexual men remain at greatest risk of acquiring HIV in the United Kingdom, accounting for an estimated 80 per cent of newly diagnosed infections that were probably acquired in the United Kingdom.”
Birrell described the blood ban as “one of the few remnants left of the old prejudiced attitude,” adding that it needs to be scrapped. Birrell cited the fact that Russia, which is considered in many respects to be more regressive than the UK in relation to gay rights overturned the ban on homosexual men donating blood in 2008.
Although the National Blood Service have claimed that weakening the safety rules would “result in a five-fold increase in the risk of HIV-infected blood entering the blood supply,” Birrell writes that they are “simply offering a prejudiced view of gay men that we’d hoped had long died out”.
“This is more than simply a process of box-checking rules designed to safeguard blood supplies,” Birrell explained.”It’s ingrained prejudice.”