In many countries, there is either an outright ban on gay men donating blood, or there is a deferral period, where a man cannot donate blood if he has had sex with another man in the preceding 6 or 12 months. The reason for the ban, is that many studies have shown that gay men have a much higher prevalence of HIV and hepatitis than straight men. I was wondering if this policy is fair. See update here: Ban on gay blood lifted.
Blood donation bans across the world
- South Africa: 6 months deferral on males having sex with males
- England: 1 year deferral on males having sex with males
- USA: indefinite deferral on males having sex with males
This means that, in South Africa, if a man has anal or oral sex with another man, they cannot donate blood for 6 months. In the USA, they can never donate blood again.
In Poland, the following applies: People of any sexual orientation involved in any kind of sexual activity are welcome to donate blood, if they are confident that their sexual behaviour is safe and does not expose them to sexually transmitted diseases by i.e. unprotected sex with non-trusted partners, whether homo-, bi- or heterosexual.
Some statistics supporting the ban
In the United States, males having sex with males accounted for 49 percent of new HIV diagnoses reported in 2005. In the United States, men who have had sex with a man after 1977 have an HIV prevalence 60 times higher than the general population.
So the statistics say that gay men are more likely to have HIV. Lifestyle studies show that gay men are more likely to have a promiscuous and risky sexual lifestyle. Therefore, we are banned from donating blood for the safety of people receiving this blood.
Why I think this is unfair to gay men
The restrictions (in South Africa) on straight people is that they must not have had sex with someone that they do not know within the previous 6 months. That is fair, because having sex with strangers can be risky, and 6 months is more than sufficient to cover the HIV window period. In fact, the tests they do on the blood can pick up HIV if the person was infected just 5 days before.
However, the question about men having sex with men in the last 6 months does not specify if you had sex with a stranger, or a long-term partner. This means that a straight person can have unprotected sex (vaginal or anal) with someone they know a day before donating blood, while a gay man who had sex (anal or oral) with his husband of 5 years, using a condom, cannot donate for 6 months after having sex.
The straight group of potential donors are split between risky and non-risky, while the gay group is not split between risky and non-risky. We are instead all assumed to be risky. And that is unfair.
What should change?
Firstly, I think lifestyle questions at blood donation clinics should not specifically exclude men who have sex with men. Rather “people” who have sex with unknown partners can be excluded. “People” who have protected sex with one long-term partner can be included.
As gay people, we need to change the statistics. This means, as gay men, we should change our behaviour. Have less promiscuous sex. Use condoms more (always). Maybe then the statistics can show that HIV incidence in gay men is equal to that of straight men.
We should also try to get more scientific studies done on HIV prevalence and the lifestyle of gay men in monogamous, long-term relationships. Perhaps that will give some proof that it is safe for this group of people to donate blood.