Students split over gay blood ban protest

Rachel Charman March 2, 2007
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The National Union of Students LGBT group is divided over tactics in their campaign for the rights of gay and bisexual men to give blood.

Gay students have staged protests outside of their local blood donation clinics, urging passers-by to donate for them because they are currently not allowed, despite the fact that blood from all donors is screened for infection.

The LGBT group launched the Donation Not Discrimination campaign in

November, saying that they feel that: “the blood ban is so unfair and discriminatory.”

There appear to be disagreements over the best way to campaign on the issue.

Whilst some members say the ban is purely homophobic and should be lifted, Donation Not Discrimination calls for a compromise in the form of a more rigorous system of questioning about sexual activity.

This, they say would: “most likely prevent [infected blood] getting through and the risk to blood stocks would decrease.”

At present, the regulations regarding blood donations exclude men who have sex with men (MSM), injection drug users, people who have been tattooed within the previous 12 months and pregnant women.

It is argued by medical authorities that MSMs are 60% more likely to have HIV/AIDS, and for this reason blood donated by MSMs would put blood supplies at risk of contamination.

Rebecca Khan, National Blood Service spokeswoman, told

“There is a period after a person contracts an infection, known as the ‘window period’ when even the best available tests cannot detect these viruses in the blood.

“The window period means we cannot rely on testing alone to provide the safest possible blood.

“We therefore have to ensure our donors are, according to the best available information, at the lowest risk of infection.

“The NBS does not set the guidelines over who can and cannot give blood.

“These guidelines are recommended by the UK Joint Professional Advisory Committee (JPAC).

“The membership includes doctors, scientists and transfusion specialists from the four UK Blood Services as well as independent experts.

“Responsibility for approving these guidelines lies with the Committee for the Microbiological Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (MSBTO) of the Department of Health. MSBTO also review the guidelines annually, most recently in October 2006.

“According to the latest available scientific evidence, men who have sex with men are at a greater risk of infections such as HIV.

“It is recognised that within the gay male community there are a variety of lifestyles. Many gay men are monogamous, practice safer sex and seek regular testing.

“However, the decisions on who can give blood need to be made based

on evidence and the risks of changing the guidelines balanced against any resulting benefits.”

For the last five years, there have been no blood shortages in the UK, under the present donor selection criteria.

“We do appreciate that many gay men would like to give blood and help patients, and that they are angry and frustrated by the current rules,” said Ms Khan.

“However, our priority must be to make sure that all patients receive the safest possible blood.”

So far, LGBT students from Stirling, Keele, York, Reading, LSE, Leicester, Liverpool Hope and UCLAN have signed petitions demanding a review of the donor selection criteria of the National Blood Service.

Scott Cuthbertson, LGBT officer at NUS, told “The petition now stands at over 20,000 signatures and we are now pushing politicians to support our cause, and Lib Dem equalities spokeswoman Lorely Burt has been giving lots of support.”

“We are also pushing for the backing of other organisations and groups and will be producing a supporters list in the near future.”

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