Right to lift ban on gay blood donors
The decision to accept blood donations from males who declare they have not had sex with other men in the previous 12 months is overdue and enhances an essential public health service by making it more inclusive
Prejudicial attitudes towards gay males that originated at the height of the HIV/Aids crisis of the 1980s and 1990s are well documented. Much of it arose from ignorance and fear which did not always serve the best interests of the wider community. It has long been largely dispelled by science and education. An exception, regrettably, is to be found in Hong Kong, in the form of permanent rejection of blood donations by those who declare they have engaged in male-to-male sex.
Happily that will not be the case for much longer. From today the Red Cross blood transfusion service will accept donations from males who declare they have not had sex with other men in the previous 12 months.
The background to this overdue change is threefold – overseas policy trends, an improved test for blood-borne diseases, and recurrent shortages of blood supplies that prompt urgent appeals for donors, most recently this month. A few months ago, following one such appeal, the service said it was reviewing the ban on gay men in line with overseas trends, for the sensible reason that HIV infections were due mostly to unsafe sex rather than the gender of sexual partners.
Overseas policy changes noted by the service include the consensus response of the United States, France, Britain and Australia to reduced HIV transmission rates from blood transfusions, which was to cut an indefinite ban on donations by men who had sex with men to 12 months since the last sexual contact.
Adoption of the change in Hong Kong reflects structural changes in the donor pool, such as ageing of the population, and casual factors, such as an unusually severe summer flu season.
Contrary to the understandable impression left by appeals for blood donors, Hong Kong’s donor ratio of 32 to every 1,000 people is close to the world standard for a high-income area of 33:1. But surges in demand and the ebb and flow of donations can put supplies under pressure. The ban on gay males from a civic-spirited act has long since served its purpose. Lifting it enhances an essential public health service by making it more inclusive.