Hong Kong has lifted its lifetime ban on gay men giving blood – but there’s a catch
Hong Kong is removing its lifetime ban on gay men donating blood.
From September 25, men will be able to give blood as long as they have not had sex with another man in the past 12 months.
The Red Cross Blood Transfusion Centre announced yesterday that it was changing its guidelines, as supplies of blood in the territory fell to “an alarming level”.
And the centre, which is the main blood bank in Hong Kong, called on citizens, including men who have sex with men, to donate as soon as possible.
“The BTS [Blood Transfusion Service] urges citizens to join in and support blood donation.
“Hong Kong needs more of its citizens to be ready to get involved in supporting and taking part in blood donation to ensure adequate blood supply.”
However, the restriction means that for many gay and bi men, it will be many months before they can contribute.
The BTS made the change after consulting with scientific research, according to local media outlet HK01.
Data from Australia, the UK and the US since they changed their rules for men who have sex with men showed that it actually makes the blood supply safer, the BTS observed.
The UK’s Department of Health revealed last year that since the lifetime ban on gay men donating was thrown out in 2011, blood safety has increased.
AIDS Concern, a local NGO, said in a statement that while it welcomed the removal of the lifetime ban, it wanted the restriction of 12 months to be shortened further.
“With the advancement of science and technology, testing donated blood for HIV is now sophisticated,” the group said, according to Hong Kong Free Press.
“The window period of virus infection (when virus cannot be detected) is just six days, which has substantially mitigated the risk of HIV transmission during the window period in blood donation.”
And Ray Chan, Hong Kong’s first openly gay lawmaker, explicitly criticised the new policy.
“The blood donation ban should be targeting unsafe sex, not sexual orientation,” he wrote on social media.
“If the lifetime ban is discrimination, then so is the 12-month ban!”
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This year has seen progress in multiple countries in terms of allowing gay men to donate blood.
In Britain, the blanket deferral period for gay men, intended to help prevent HIV contamination of blood supplies, came under increasing scrutiny for failing to reflect modern screening capabilities.
This means gay men are only required to abstain from anal or oral sex for 12 weeks before being able to give blood.
In January, Switzerland lifted its lifetime ban on gay men donating blood – as long as they are celibate for 12 months.
Ireland has softened its rules in a similar fashion, lifting its permanent ban on men who have had sex with men from donating blood and instead introducing a deferral period of 12 months.