WHO regulation shuts door on blood donations from gay men, other high risk groups

– transfusion service official

The National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) remains firm in its stance of not allowing gay men and members of other groups deemed to be at high risk of transmitting sexual diseases from donating blood.

This matter recently came to the fore when teacher/journalist Leon Suseran disclosed that he had been barred from donating blood after declaring that he was gay. Prior to his declaration that he was gay, Suseran had been able to donate blood.

Asked about the block on blood donations by gay men,  an official of the Blood Bank who declined to be named said “It is a guideline prepared by WHO (World Health Organisation) that we follow… It’s our protocol”. This guideline will be in place at least until 2017.

The guideline in question, 7.9.1, addresses high-risk sexual behaviours.

It says “Certain sexual behaviours have been shown by surveillance data to be associated with a high risk of transmission of HIV, HBV and HCV. It is essential that (Blood Transfusion Services) identify and defer from blood donation individuals whose sexual behaviour puts them at high risk of acquiring infectious diseases that can be transmitted through blood. Deferral policies for high-risk behaviours should be supported by public education…”

It added that  “High-risk sexual behaviours include having multiple sex partners, receiving or paying money or drugs for sex, including sex workers and their clients, men having sex with men (MSM) and females having sex with MSM. MSM account for the largest subpopulation of HIV-infected people in most developed countries and many countries therefore permanently defer men who have ever had oral or anal sex with another man.”

The guideline acknowledged that there was controversy over the debarring of MSMs from donating blood.

“The permanent deferral of MSM has been criticized as being selectively discriminatory and lacking scientific rigour  and has undergone review in some countries in the light of increasingly sensitive and reliable technologies for donation screening. Studies using mathematical modelling to predict the effect of reducing deferral intervals for MSM to one or five years have suggested that the increased risk of an HIV-infected donation entering the blood supply is small, but not zero, with little gain in terms of additional donations. These studies rely on some assumptions, are applicable only to the populations studied, and relate to testing methodologies that are not available in some countries and have been superseded in others. However, no comparable evidence is currently available. The permanent deferral of MSM therefore continues to be endorsed as the default position based on the principle of risk reduction to “as low as reasonably achievable…”, the guideline added.

The blood bank official noted that the issue was one of international contention and the NBTS was working in the interest of the recipients. The official stated that the safety of the recipient was priority and that debarment was not an attack on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgen-dered (LGBT) community.

“It is an international regulation… that persons who have same sex relationships should not donate blood,” the official reiterated.

Singled out
“Gays are being singled out in the ‘risk’ they pose. Don’t straight people pose that risk too? Do gay people alone have HIV/AIDS?” journalist Suseran had asked in a letter to the Stabroek News on October 3, under the caption ‘End the discriminatory practice of not allowing gays and lesbians to give blood.’

In his letter he said that he had been a regular donor for three years but when “I made my way to the N/A Blood Bank a few weeks ago, I was told that I cannot donate blood any more…”

He said that he was appalled by the ‘sheer stupidity’ of the guideline that prohibited gays from donating blood, questioning if the blood bank would trace his previous donations prior to his declaration of being gay. “So now that everyone knows, will the blood service trace all the blood I donated over the past 3 years to see where it went and if it had any risks? There is a price to pay for being honest in this place,” he stated.

“My blood was wanted when they did not know I was gay. And now what they are saying in reality is that my blood is not wanted, now that they know I am gay,” he remarked, labelling it as ‘nonsense’ and ‘discriminatory,’ and also declared that it was the blood bank’s loss since every donation that he could possibly have made would have saved 18 lives.

“Let’s end this discriminatory practice and allow gays and lesbians to give blood, while at the same time ensuring strict measures are put in place to screen everyone’s blood—gay, lesbian or straight! Isn’t that what’s supposed to be done anyhow?” said Suseran in his letter.

The matter had also been raised in an earlier letter by activist, Vidyaratha Kissoon.

He had said that it was regrettable that the Government of Guyana seems to believe that LGBT people are not suitable as blood donors because they ‘threaten’ the lives of those who receive blood.

He noted that with all of the knowledge about HIV/AIDS and how it is passed on through risky behaviours regardless of whether a person is gay or straight, the question is asked by the local blood bank: What is your sexual preference? He added that women and men who imply that they are not heterosexual are not allowed to donate.

“Does the government believe that a heterosexual person who might have had risky sexual behaviour with one person is more suitable to be a ‘hero’ than a gay or lesbian person who has been following the Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condomise practice?” he asked.

He pointed out that Spain, Australia, Italy, Mexico, Uruguay do not discriminate in their acceptance of blood donors, adding that there are calls in the United States and other places to end the ban on accepting donations from gay men since there is no justification for the ban. Kissoon stated that Guyana seems to be one of the few countries which do not accept from  women who have sex with women.

He argued that the government’s refusal to accept donations from lesbians, gays and bisexuals is not consistent with its own policies of not promoting stigma and discrimination in its health services. Kissoon contended that the discriminatory policies reinforced by the government contribute to the environment which nurtures the hatred and contempt for LGBT Guyanese.

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