Have you ever donated blood? If so, you will realise the monumental impact your donation could have on saving the lives of patients who are in desperate need of transfusion. If not, it’s likely that you have taken that opportunity for granted.
Since 2011, the UK enforces a 12-month deferral period for men who have sex with men (MSM). Scientists previously believed it could take this period for infected individuals to test positive. However, newer forms of testing – the p24 antigen and Nucleic acid methods – are proven to take around twelve days and are much more effective.
The ban is undeniably outdated. A student led group Voice Your Rights (VYR) are now in the process of building a legal case. They hope to shed light on the injustices surrounding the ban: both against those who are refused treatment due to the shortage of blood supplies, and those denied the opportunity to supply it.
“Not only is the ban discriminatory, it turns away eligible, healthy donors when supplies are so desperately needed in hospitals”
Only 4% of the population donate blood regularly and in England alone around 8000 blood transfusions are carried out every day. As blood can only be safely stored for about 42 days, hospital stocks are in constant need of replenishment. Clearly, the primary concern regarding using MSM blood is the higher risk of infected blood samples. The reduction in risk due to advancements in testing now means that saving lives should take priority.
The ban is discriminatory in more ways than one: it limits an individual’s autonomy by restricting him from donating blood, and, further, it reinforces negative stereotypes about gay and bisexual men. In fact, not only is the ban discriminatory, it turns away eligible, healthy donors when supplies are so desperately needed in hospitals.
“It doesn’t feel right to promote blood donation for the sake of our patients and not to be able to do so myself”
Dimitris Vichas, gay medical student and founder of Voice Your Rights, speaks about the human reality of the ban:
“As a medical student and human being, I have devoted my life to helping people deal with their illnesses. The ban on MSM blood donation simply means that as a gay man, I cannot contribute to potentially saving someone’s life… It doesn’t feel right to promote blood donation for the sake of our patients and not to be able to do so myself”.
This discrimination is not global; Spain and Italy screen on the basis of risky sexual activity. This September, Argentina lifted the deferral period for homosexuals with the full support of Health Minister Daniel Gollan, who asserted the decision was “scientifically and technically accurate”.
The lack of media attention in the UK surrounding the ban highlights the ingrained norms that society has come to accept. Without political mobilisation or successful litigation, the ban is not going to budge. But there is potential for change.
Andy Burnham, runner up in the Labour leadership election, challenged the current system. #PutTheRedBack campaign has begun to gather momentum with their removal of the red in the LGBT flag in honour of those unable to donate. There has also been proposals to consider allowing homosexuals in monogamous relationships to donate blood.
What can you do?
The aim of the Voice Your Rights campaign is to raise awareness of the issue and to promote discussion. This political campaign has the potential for ground-breaking changes to the current outdated and discriminatory system. The more students who support the campaign, the greater impact it will have.
Support the campaign and keep up to date with its progress by following on social media.
Image: Michele M.F. via Flickr