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Call for end to blanket blood ban stands

Wed 11 Dec 2013 In: New Zealand Daily News

Rainbow Wellington maintains there should be no blanket ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood in New Zealand, but individual risk assessments instead. A team invited by New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) to carry out a review has made a draft recommendation that the stand down period be reduced from five years from the time a man has had anal or oral sex with another man, to one year. It’s rejected the idea of one-on-one risk based assessments based on a man’s sexual behaviour, saying no research has been published in the area, and it would also mean gay and bi men would be hit with invasive in-depth questions about their sex lives. Rainbow Wellington says a blanket ban is discriminatory and risk based assessment of actual behaviour should be the goal. It points to this year’s policy change of the American Medical Association, which now opposes the lifetime ban still imposed by the US FDA. As part of that, board member Dr William Kobler said in a statement: "This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone." Rainbow Wellington is urging to the New Zealand review group to look at this further. It also disagrees with the assertion that the in-depth questioning which would be necessary for individual risk assessment would be too intrusive. “As it is, a substantial number of gay men wish to donate blood. At present if they are at all sexually active they cannot do so, and would we believe welcome the possibility of doing so, even if it led to more detailed questioning,” it says. “We suspect that it is more likely to be the extra work, and the extra training required in the NZBS for such an approach which is perceived to be a problem.” Rainbow Wellington says it’s clear that the blood testing procedure of the NZBS is now very robust. “We believe that, rather than discouraging MSM from coming forward at all, which is clearly the current policy, it would be better to encourage participation as a useful way of getting people to test themselves more regularly. “Given that all blood is tested anyway, this could be a generally useful development, even if initially a smaller blood sample was taken, with the full amount being donated once the blood was passed as suitable.” In its submission on the issue Rainbow Wellington also touches on the stigma for gay men of not being able to give blood. “In situations like workplaces or schools, a blood donation campaign can see considerable peer pressure placed on people to donate blood. “If you are an active gay man, this can have various consequences. Some can be considerably embarrassed, if they are not ‘out’ in that environment, and do not wish to state why they cannot donate. More often we suspect that they lie and give blood anyway. “Indeed, we know of gay men who go further than that, and regularly donate blood because their own self-assessment is that they are safe. “This view would appear to be confirmed by the tiny number of problems which arise nowadays. The robust testing has taken care of the very small number of unsafe blood donations made.”    

Credit: GayNZ.com Daily News staff

First published: Wednesday, 11th December 2013 - 11:33am

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