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Debate over blood donations from gay men

Monday March 2nd, 2009

A fresh plea has been made to allow gay men to donate blood.

There is a ban in place in most Western countries, dating from the 1980s when HIV was discovered.

Men who have had sex with men still account for most new HIV infections - with a HIV rate 60 times higher than the general population.

Dr Jay Brooks of the University of Texas, USA, supports the ban. On the website of the British Medical Journal he writes that the risk of HIV infection is too great.

"The right of recipients to receive safe blood should trump the asserted rights of donors to give blood," he believes. "No fundamental right exists to make this donation."

However, Bob Roehr a biomedical journalist from Washington DC, USA, feels that the ban is not supported by evidence, and has no scientific justification.

"In the US, people who fall into other categories of risky behaviour - injecting drug users and sex workers - are generally allowed to donate blood after a year's deferral from the last risky activity," he writes.

He calculates that changing the criteria to 12 months from when the last sex took place with a new partner would result in only one more unit of HIV positive blood among the 15 million units a year processed in the US.

Also in the journal, Richard Hurley, the technical editor, questions why some developed countries now accept these donations, but most do not. "It seems unlikely that lifelong deferral of men who have sex with men is a sustainable policy, but whether a finite period will appease opponents remains to be seen," he concludes.

Brooks, J. P. and Roehr, B. Head to Head: Should men who've ever had sex with men be allowed to give blood? The British Medical Journal, published online February 27, 2009.

Tags: Flu & Viruses | Menís Health | North America

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