The Government have just announced that the lifetime blood donation ban on gay and bisexual men has been lifted – but has it really been lifted or has it merely been reduced?
This change in regulation is definitely a step in the right direction but it comes with the restriction that men who have not had sex with other men in the past 12 months will be able to donate blood. Previously, all men who had ever had sex with other men were not allowed to donate blood in the UK.
With this 12 month deferral in place, will it really encourage gay men to come forward and give blood? I highly doubt it.
The Government are not just asking for gay men to reduce their level of sexual activity, they are asking for it to be non-existent for at least one year.
For many people this would require a major lifestyle change and I do not believe that they should have to make this difficult decision.
The restriction that will be in place from November is supposedly not a question of sexual orientation, or discrimination against homosexuals, but is based on a concern for public health related to a rise in cases of HIV in gay men.
The Health Protection Agency’s recent figures show that men who have sex with men remain in the group most at risk of becoming infected with HIV. There were 3,000 new cases of HIV diagnosed in 2010 - the largest ever annual number of new HIV diagnoses in this group since the HIV epidemic began.
Andrew Gilliver, Communications Manager for LGF (The Lesbian & Gay Foundation) reiterates the importance of reducing the number of cases of HIV in Manchester.
Andrew says: “Every man needs to get tested, look after their health and talk about HIV. We need to fight HIV first and Manchester has to take the lead.
"We’ve had a free condom scheme for over 17 years so we need to look after each other and fight HIV. I would say to all gay men in Manchester to get tested at least every year.”
In reality, the blood donor system is based on trust. A gay man who is in a monogamous relationship and has had sex within the past year could just as easily visit a blood donation centre as a promiscuous straight man.
The question of trust lies with the individual and their conscience. However all blood donations go through a stringent screening process and according to the NHSBT (NHS Blood and Transplant Services) there has been no documented transmission of a blood-borne virus in the UK since 2005, with no HIV transmission since 2002.
Nathan Ward, 22, Bar Supervisor at View bar on Canal Street felt disappointed that these changes to blood donation regulations weren’t made earlier and questioned why the rules aren’t the same for heterosexual people too.
He said: “I’d like to give blood but I can’t because I have to wait a year. Both me and my partner get tested for HIV every six months and we’re very healthy people. I don’t understand why we can’t donate.”
Despite Nathan’s positive and responsible attitude towards being tested, he is still not allowed to give blood donations.
It seems that the key to completely lifting the restrictions on the ban is to firstly reduce the number of cases of HIV in gay men so that they can take the next steps towards a fairer system.
Manchester distributes over half a million condoms every year and currently the LGF is championing the ‘Know Your Status’ campaign by offering free boxes of condoms at all bars and clubs along Canal Street. For further information, please visit: http://www.lgf.org.uk/news-articles/-know-your-status-for-pride/