After thirty years, the lifelong ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood is set to be lifted later this year…with certain conditions attached. The main one being that a gay/bisexual man will only be allowed to donate blood as long as he has abstained from any sexual intercourse with another man for twelve months. The reason for such a time limit is due to what is known as the window of opportunity infection. For example, someone who may have had unprotected sex (sex without a condom) may take an HIV test and receive a negative HIV diagnoses, but this does not mean that HIV is not present in the blood. A further test, twelve months later is the only sure indication that the person is not carrying the virus.
The original ban was put in place, back in the 1980’s when it became clear that those needing blood transfusions, in particular people living with the condition haemophilia, were becoming infected with the same mystery illness (now know as HIV) that was predominately affecting gay men. From the earlier 80’s a lifetime ban was put in place prohibiting gay and bisexual men from giving blood, regardless of their sexual activities. However, since the early days of testing donated blood for HIV there have been great advancers questioning why the ban is still in place.
There are two main reasons the government’s advisory committee have looked at this issue. The first has been the continued protest from organisations like Stonewall who have petitioned that such a ban is discriminatory against gay and bisexual men. The second reason for reversing the ban on gay men donating blood comes down to the fact that despite numerous costly campaigns to get more people to give blood, the blood banks in the UK are at an all time low,
Regardless of this recent news there are still many gay men who still find the new arrangement on giving blood discriminating against their lifestyles and who they are. For example a gay man living in a monogamous relationship and have never had anal sex will still be banned from giving blood, but a heterosexual man who doesn’t practice safer sex and has multiple sexual partners can give blood without question.
How many gay men coming forward to give blood is still in question, but it is hoped that there will be a significant increase, but for some working in the HIV sector, they are not so sure; in an interview Sir Nick Partridge, chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust thought the new regulations were “fair and equal” but added “The vast majority of gay men are still (sexually) active, making it impossible to say how many gay men would actually be able to start donating blood.”
Although many people in the gay community feel that much more could be done to end the discrimination against gay and bisexual men who wish to donate blood, for now at least the lifting of the ban with its restrictions is a step in the right direction. If you would like to know more about giving blood and further details on the recent news please visit www.blood.co.uk/can-i-give-blood/exclusion