Gwilym Jones (UK, UWC AC 2010-2012)
“Sign down for blood donation? This seems like a fabulous form of community service! Giving a few minutes to potentially save a life doesn‟t seem like a bad deal to me. Let me just check the terms and conditions…”
I was unable to give blood, when the opportunity arose in September, due to my sexuality, and I’m not the only one here who suffered similar disappointment. In the UK, men who have had sex with other men, condom or no condom, face a lifetime ban on blood donation.
Established as a knee-jerk response to the threat of AIDS in the ’80s, this ban includes oral sex, and places on gay and bisexual men the same restrictions as apply to prostitutes and heroin injectors. Needless to say, all blood given is tested for HIV and multiple other pathogens, before it is used. The rationale behind the ban is that there lies a ‘window period’ between the time of infection, and the time when testing can pick up the disease in somebody’s blood. Nevertheless, the current procedures are blatantly discriminatory, and are based on prejudice more than they are on science.
At last though, the UK is revising its regulations. As of November this year, men who have abstained from gay sex for 12 months will be free to donate. This move follows developments in Australia and South Africa, where a similar quarantine period has been put in place. Since the change in these countries, there has been no increase in HIV infection from blood transfusion.
So, a glorious victory for gay rights and science in Britain? Certainly, but we must go further. Why should a man, who has protected sex with one loyal partner, be treated the same as a guy who sleeps around without a condom? The risk factors are vastly different, and the law should reflect this. How about a shorter exclusion time for safer individuals, and instead focus on the higher-risk people?
The truth is that most gay and bisexual people do not have HIV, and will never get it.
Our blood will not endanger patients’ lives; it will save them.