Bad blood over donation rules

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2012, 12:00am
 

Revised national blood-donation guidelines have sparked controversy, with a ban on lesbians donating blood lifted but sexually active gay men still prohibited from doing so.

Celibate gay men, however, now appear to be permitted to donate blood, as the guidelines, which have come into force this month, ban 'men who had sex with men'.

The changes have been introduced to donation guidelines that had been in effect since 2001.

When they attempt to donate blood, people are presented with screening questions in which they volunteer information about their sexuality and about medical conditions that may make them ineligible to donate. It is hard to verify the veracity of information about one's sexual orientation, but all blood is supposed to be tested at least twice before it is used in transfusions, to ensure it is safe.

Although some hailed the changes as being a sign of increased tolerance, the revisions were still met with much debate for the continued ban on donations by sexually active gay men.

A survey on Sohu.com showed that 42 per cent of 11,540 respondents supported the continued ban, out of fear for public safety. More than 16 per cent opposed the ban, calling it discriminatory and saying that gay men should be allowed to donate as long as their blood passes tests to which all blood is subjected. And 14 per cent said they opposed lifting the ban on lesbians donating.

The US Food and Drug Administration bans gay men from donating blood if they have had sex with other men at any point in the last 35 years, because of the 'increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion'. The United Kingdom has a similar ban, but they changed the rules last year to allow donations by gay men if they hadn't had sex with other men within the previous 12 months. Women in the UK who have had sex with a man who used to have sex with men are also banned from donating within 12 months of such intercourse.

According to a report last year by the Chinese Ministry of Health, the country has 780,000 HIV/Aids patients, and 17.4 per cent of them contracted the virus through homosexual activity. The report also said the rate of HIV among gay men is rising.

In 2010, a man in Beijing attempted to sue the Beijing Red Cross Blood Centre for turning him down when he tried to donate blood, but the lawsuit was rejected by the HaidianDistrict People's Court.

Dr Zhang Ke, who specialises in infectious diseases at Beijing Youan Hospital and has pushed for the rights of Aids patients, said it was difficult to reach a balance between gay men, who feel labelled and restricted, and the government, which is trying to safeguard public health.

Zhang said the ideal solution would be to continue to improve technology while having 'high-risk' people declare such information during the screening process rather than banning an entire group such as homosexual men from donating.

'But we don't have the luxury of that under the current situation, so the government has to take precautions,' Zhang said.

780,000

The number of people suffering from HIV and Aids on the mainland, according to the Ministry of Health

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