Cape Town - A controversial blanket ban which prevented sexually active gay men from donating blood has been lifted by the SA National Blood Service (SANBS).
In an amendment to the service’s criteria for eligible donors, sexually active people of any orientation and who have been in a monogamous relationship for six months or more are allowed to donate blood.
The move was celebrated on Wednesday by Health4Men, one of the country’s primary organisations that provide specialised sexual health services for “vulnerable and marginalised men”.
“The African continent has been clouded in a lot of anti-gay news of late,” said Dr Johan Hugo, senior clinical adviser at Health4Men.
“The announcement by the SANBS lifting the ban on sexually active gay men donating blood brings a welcome ray of sunshine to the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community in South Africa…
“Hopefully this will help to educate society (to reject homophobia) and at the same time be able to assist with the serious demand for blood.”
The blood service’s spokeswoman, Vanessa Raju, on Wednesday confirmed a nearly 50 percent shortfall in the blood available for life-saving transfusions.
The amendment was approved by the Department of Health in February, and came into effect earlier this month. However, the SANBS did not publicise the change and it had been largely overlooked until local news website Mamba Online, which focuses on gay issues, reported on it this week.
Raju said: “With this amendment, the question of male-to-male has been removed from the donor questionnaire… The new questionnaire will address sexual risk, in that any sexual act or contact with a new partner (or new partners) during the preceding six months will be deemed a risk to the safety of blood supply, irrespective of the personal sexual orientation or preference.”
Previously, gay men had to disclose that they had been celibate for six months prior to donating blood for them to qualify as a blood donor. In the past, the ban had infuriated gay rights activists.
In 2006, Glenn de Swardt of the gay support organisation the Triangle Project called the ban “prejudiced and homophobic”, adding that it led to “further marginalisation and stigmatisation” of gay people.
In the same year, 120 members of the Joburg-based Gay and Lesbian Alliance lied in the questionnaires and donated blood in protest, an action the SANBS condemned.
The spat was dubbed the “blood wars” in the media.
A gaylife.co.za blogger, who identifies himself as Peter, said on Wednesday: “The new policy recognises that a gay couple in a monogamous, long-term relationship poses no more risk than a straight couple (in the same position). This is a major step in making the world more fair and less discriminatory for gay people.”