Centre LGBT Paris-ÎdF, le Centre Lesbien, Gai, Bi et Trans de Paris et Île-de-France

MSM and blood donation

 

Imagine one day you muster the courage to go to a blood donation service ; to save a life, to help a friend, or for any other reason that has motivated you. Now put yourself in John’s shoes : John gets to the blood service and fills out a form ; it only seems normal since John’s blood must be healthy enough to help. John had a good breakfast, his weight is above 50kg, he is not on antibiotics and his haemoglobin levels are fine. Everything is perfect and John qualifies to make a difference. Next, as a man John must answer if he has engaged in any sexual activity with another man prior to the date of his donation. Answering truthfully as a man who has sex with men (MSM), the blood service has no choice but to turn John away. All donated blood is tested for HIV, hepatitis and other viruses. In most developed countries, regardless of sexual orientation an MSM, even if he is abstinent, is prohibited from donating blood for life.

In some countries, women who have had sex with an MSM risk getting excluded as well. Experts in blood donation find the ban unnecessary and view this as a limit to the possible number of donations they could receive. The United States, Denmark, Netherlands and even France all have laws against MSMs donating blood for an indefinite period of time. The reasons for this vary, but MSMs are particularly targeted because they report relatively higher HIV infection rates than other groups, a fact that has haunted MSMs in the developed world since the 80s. Given the time period, homophobia can thus be linked to the unfair treatment. 

Some countries have deferral periods like Canada which allows MSMs to donate blood if they haven’t engaged in homosexual intercourse in 5 years. For Brazil, Great Britain and Australia it is one year. This deferral is still discriminatory. Effectively, a man who has recently had unprotected heterosexual sex will be allowed to donate blood, whereas a man in a committed monogamous relationship with another man will be refused.

The countries that maintain a blood ban are in most cases also the same countries that have the most progressive LGBT rights, it raises the question why a country that has given full equal benefits and rights to the LGBT community maintains such a double standard. The answer would likely be because there is not enough awareness regarding the issue. Already, donating blood is not something that most people do. There are very few associations that actively fight against the ban. Some universities in North America have refused to have a blood service run on their campuses because the ban goes against their non-discrimination policies. Queer rights groups around the world have also contributed to the fight against the blood ban.

On the contrary there are a number of countries which allow MSMs to donate blood with no deferral. These countries include Chile, Thailand, Spain and South Africa. 
Possible good news is that France is currently considering lifting its own blood ban which specifically targets sexual orientation. The best way forward is by spreading awareness. In my opinion, the first question we should ask ourselves is : what really matters, that John’s blood is gay or that John’s blood is healthy ?

Thomas Shamuyarira



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