SANBS slams gay 'blood war'

2006-01-16 10:15

Johannesburg - South Africa's blood supply service on Sunday slammed gays who gave blood last week without revealing their sexual status to protest the policy of turning away donations by homosexuals.

About 120 members of the Johannesburg-based Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GLA) on Friday donated blood at clinics in response to a statement by the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) asking gays not to do so.

The group's members lied about their sexual status on an admission form and only after donating blood told the SANBS that 65% of them had engaged in high-risk sexual behaviour and were unsure of their HIV status, while at least one member had full-blown Aids.

"What bothers us is that someone could not do something like this without realising their responsibility to the safety of the blood supply," SANBS spokesperson Ianthe Exall told the Johannesburg-based Sunday Independent.

"Blood donation is not a right, it's a privilege. Everybody has to meet the right criteria," she said.

Dubbed the "blood wars" by the South African media, the dispute erupted on Thursday between the SANBS and South Africa's gay and lesbian community when the blood service issued a statement asking gays not to donate blood.

"A man who has had sex with another man within the last five years, whether oral or anal sex, with or without a condom or other form of protection, is not permitted to donate blood and must please not do so," the statement said.

The SANBS said its ban was based on "international practice" and on data in international medical publications that men who have sex with men showed increased risk of HIV transmission and other blood infections.

Gay groups, however, described the ban as homophobic.

Glenn de Swardt of the Triangle Project, the oldest gay service organisation in South Africa, said that HIV and Aids infected all people, regardless of their age, race, gender or sexual orientation.

The stance of the SANBS was "prejudiced and homophobic and contributes further to the stigmatisation and marginalisation of the gay community," he said.

South Africa has one of the world's biggest Aids caseloads with about one in seven people, or 6.5 million, living with HIV or Aids, according to the health ministry.

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