Thailand joins gay blood ban

Adam Lake April 2, 2008
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The Thai Red Cross Society has decided to reject blood donations from homosexual men in a move which has met with strong opposition from human rights organisations.

It said it had large amounts of unused blood that had tested HIV-positive.

Most of the infected blood was reportedly from men who were having unprotected sex with other men, according the director of the National Blood Centre, Soisaang Pikulsod.

Thailand is not the first country to ban gay men from donating blood.

In 1985 the American Red Cross and Food and Drug Administration stopped accepting blood donations from “any male who has had sex with another male since 1977, even once.”

Intravenous drug users or recent immigrants from certain nations with high rates of HIV infection are also barred from donating blood.

The continued inclusion of men who have sex with men on the prohibited list has created some degree of controversy.

The United Kingdom Blood and Tissue Transplantation Service states on its website:

“We ask gay men not to give blood because gay men, as a group, are known to be at an increased risk of acquiring HIV and a number of other sexually transmitted infections,many of which are carried in the blood.

“Changing the rule to allow gay men to donate one year after they last had sex with another man would increase the risk by 60%”

Currently in the UK, 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Campaign group has branded current guidelines “outdated and discriminatory” and called for an overhaul of the policy.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.

Australia formerly had a similar ban, but now only prohibits donating blood within one year after male-male sex (longer than the typical window period for HIV blood screening tests performed on donated blood).

In Finland the parliamentary ombudsman launched an investigation on the possible unconstitutionality of the life-time ban in January 2006.

France, Russia and South Africa have also recently lifted the blanket ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.

They have concluded that their blood donor policy should be based on differentiating between risky and non-risky behaviour, regardless of sexual orientation.

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