Blood donor service drops anti-gay bias

2014-05-23 00:00

STELLENBOSCH — Sexual orientation is no longer a factor when you donate blood.

Gay men who are sexually active can now also donate blood in South Africa after the SA National Blood Service (SANBS) recently removed and amended a question on its questionnaire. The gay community has long campaigned for this discriminatory exclusion to be dropped.

The new questionnaire asks about sexual risk, regardless of the donor’s sexual orientation.

“Africa has been under a dark cloud of anti-gay news. This announcement that sexually active gay men may donate blood, brings a ray of hope to the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community in South Africa,” said Dr Johan Hugo, senior clinical adviser of Health4Men, a clinic offering free services involving sexual health to all men.

“In the past gay men or men who have sex with men (MSM) were only allowed to donate blood if they had been celibate for six months or longer, because they were considered as a high HIV risk. The South African HIV epidemic is mainly a heterosexual epidemic, which was why the SANBS’s policy was viewed as discriminatory. People in monogamous relationships will now be able to donate blood regardless of their sexual orientation.”

SANBS spokesperson Vanessa Raju said the amendment to the questionnaire was approved in February by the minister of Health. “In the past 24 months we worked with the Western Province blood transfusion service and other interest groups to re-examine the criteria.

“Starting on May 5, the new questionnaire covers sexual risk, regardless of the donor’s sexual orientation. Any sexual contact with a new partner in the past six months will be seen as a risk for the safety of the blood …” said Raju.

Raju said the SANBS’s priority was to ensure the blood they collected was safe and sufficient for those who needed it.

The old question read: “Have you had man to man sexual contact in the past six months?”

The new question reads: “In the past six months (with or without a condom):

• Have you had sexual contact with a new partner?; and

• did you have sexual contact with more than one person?

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