Health Officials in Scotland Uphold Ban on Blood Donations From MSM
Scottish health officials Tuesday rejected calls to allow men who have sex with men to donate blood, citing concerns about the number of HIV cases in the population, The Scotsman reports. National Director of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service Keith Thompson said the lifetime ban against MSM is in place to ensure the safety of blood donations, but advocates have said that the restrictions are discriminatory and that the ban hinders efforts to alleviate blood shortages in the country. The Scotsman reports that 86% of new HIV cases in Scotland are recorded among MSM.
Thompson said that approximately one-third of blood donations that were found to contain HIV were traced to MSM and that it is not possible at this time for blood service staff to safely differentiate between MSM whose behavior would put them at high risk for HIV and those whose behavior would not. Careful donor selection is the only defense against this and any issues surrounding the screening of blood donations, SNBTS officials said, adding that other groups that are prevented from donating blood include people who have had sex with a commercial sex worker, injection drug user or in a country with a high HIV burden in the past year.
The announcement was in response to a petition submitted to the Scottish Parliament calling for a review on donation rules to allow certain MSM to give blood. The petition was supported by groups such as Stonewall Scotland, the National Union of Students and Bloodban, which called the restrictions "outdated, stereotypical and discriminatory towards healthy" MSM. Calum Irving, director of Stonewall Scotland, said the group believes the "blood ban is discriminatory and should be lifted," adding that SNBTS is "applying one rule for gay people and another for straight people." A Scottish government spokesperson said that officials "recognize that many [MSM] sincerely wish to help patients by giving blood and may be frustrated as a result of this rule. Advances in blood transfusion safety procedures may allow gay and bisexual men to donate in the future, but, until then, priority has to be given to securing the safety of the blood supply" (Moss, The Scotsman, 11/5).