How would you feel about being prevented from giving blood based on your skin colour? What about your sexual orientation?
That is how campaigners are comparing the current blood donation regulations that mean gay and bisexual men must wait 12 months after having sex with a male partner before they are able to give blood.
Chris Ward, of the LGBT wing of the Lib Dems, said: “Black men are a high risk group and they are rightly allowed to give blood because people recognise that you cannot say to somebody ‘you cannot give blood because you are black’. They are allowed to give blood and they are allowed to give blood responsibly, which they do.
“I don’t think that any argument that tries to correlate societal groups to the risk of behaviour is relevant at all.”
Up until last year there was a lifetime ban on blood donations from men who had ever had sex with another man.
The Lib Dem campaign ‘Science not Stigma: Ending the Blood Ban‘ successfully
challenged these regulations – lifting the lifetime ban – but the new 12 month deferral period was imposed. The campaign is now calling on government to review the system again and focus on the risks of the individual.
Chris said: “We know exactly how HIV is transmitted: it is transmitted through unprotected sex. I would prefer to have a behavioural based assessment that says rather than ‘are you a man who has had sex with a man in the last 12 months?’ but ‘are you anybody who has had unprotected sex with a casual partner in the last 12 months?'”
“That will not only be a catch all for anybody who is having risky sex, but at the same time it will put emphasis on the importance of safe sex – which is something that all aspects of the NHS should be promoting people doing.”
A report from the Health Protection Agency, to mark 30 years since the discovery of AIDS, identifies the groups most at risk of contracting HIV as men who have sex with men (MSM), black Africans and people who inject drugs. It was estimated that by the end of 2010 there were 91,500 people living with HIV in the UK, with 24% of those unaware they have the disease.
Since 1985 NHS Blood and Transplant have screened all blood donors for HIV. In 2010 there were 18 donors who tested positive at screening and eight of these reported that ‘the most likely risk for acquiring HIV was sex between men’.
There has been no transfer of HIV through blood transfusions in the UK since 2002.
Chris said: “We need to have a review in the next couple of years to see what impact these new regulations have had on the safety of the blood bank; has the number of HIV positive donations gone up, have we had any issues since then?
“Blood stocks are incredibly low, we need more people to donate and it makes absolute sense to change the criteria so that people who are low risk can donate and we exclude rightly people who are high risk. We need to accept that high risk does not mean who you sleep with, its how you do it.”
Chris is keen to stress that the ‘Science not Stigma’ campaign focuses on the scientific research behind the regulations.
He said: “A lot people have characterised this debate as the blood ban being homophobic and I absolutely refuse to use language like ‘homophobia’ and ‘bigotry’.
“I have a lot of respect for the NHS and the people who work in it and I would like to think that this review and deferral is the product of good intentions. We just don’t agree with how they have done it.
“We can beat our opponents on this using scientific evidence and the facts, we don’t need to cry homophobia.
“The most important thing is making sure the transfusions are safe and that they are clean. That has to be the number one priority. It is not about us – it has never been about the gay and bisexual men – it is always about the patient.”
Listen to the interview with Chris Ward below and please give your opinion by voting in the poll below or leaving a comment.