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Hong Kong has lifted its lifetime ban on gay men giving blood – but there’s a catch

Josh Jackman September 15, 2017
Blood

70,000 new donors are needed in France each year. (Getty Images)

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”.

Rally participants take part in a gay and lesbian rally through the streets in Hong Kong on December 13, 2008. Hundreds marched to promote the rights of the gay and lesbian community in the territory. AFP PHOTO/CHEUNG KA CHUN (Photo credit should read CHEUNG KA CHUN/AFP/Getty Images)
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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.

HONG KONG, CHINA:  Matt Pearce (L) and Adrian Smith (R) wearing wedding dresses and holding placards run along with thousands of participants in the 10km Men's Open race of Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2005 in Tsim Tsa Tsui district of Hong Kong, 27 February 2005.  Matt and Adrian joined the marathon as a running demonstration calling on the government to allow same-sex-marriage. "We chose the marathon because it is a middle class family event and it's that class of people who are preventing gays the right to marry," said Matt Pearce, protest co-ordinator and spokesman for activist group International Action.  Homosexuality was only decriminalised in Hong Kong in 1991 and the age of consent for gays is 21 even though for heterosexuals it is 16. Gay marriage is still banned. Gay and lesbian groups say authorities have hardened their opposition since rule of Hong Kong was transferred in 1997 to China, where homosexuality, though lawful, is stigmatised.    AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE  (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
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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.”

Hong Kong, CHINA:  A gay and homosexual group lead a protest to government offices in Hong Kong 01 December 2006.  The group were urging the government to end discrimination to homosexuals with regard to an organisation which promotes conversion therapy for homosexuals. Banner reads" Government leads campaign to insult gays and believes they need a cure"    AFP PHOTO/MIKE CLARKE  (Photo credit should read MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images)
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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!”

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.

And in July, the government responded by drastically shortened the deferral period from a year to three months.

HONG KONG, CHINA:  Gay activists wearing masks attend a gathering and march in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong, 16 May 2005. Some 350 people from various backgrounds gathered 16 May to raise public awareness for the first time on homophobia and promote diversity.    AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE  (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
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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.

More: Asia, Asia, blood, blood ban, blood donation, Gay, gay men, Health, Hong Kong

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