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South Africa ends blood donor ban on gay men

Wednesday, May 21, 2014
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PRETORIA, South Africa – South African National Blood Service (SANBS) has dropped a ban that prohibited gay men from donating blood.

SANBS issued new rules on Tuesday that allow donation from a person who has been in a monogamous relationship for at least six months, regardless of their sexual orientation, reported Mamba Online.

South-AfricaA ban of six months will still be applied on people who had sex with a new partner, and blanket ban on anyone with multiple sexual partners.

Previously, SANBS viewed gay men as a high-risk group and could only donate if they had been celibate for six months or longer.

The policy was widely criticized as discriminatory because as South Africa’s HIV epidemic is a primarily heterosexual.

Vanessa Raju, SANBS Communications Manager told Mambao Online that the new policy is non-discriminatory: “This policy would apply to me, for example, who’s just started dating someone new,” Raju added.

“But people who are in monogamous male same-sex relationships (for more than six months) can now donate,” she said.

“It took us a while because we didn’t have local facts that warranted changing our policy, although we knew South Africa was different from other countries in terms of risk of HIV,” said Raju. “The policy wasn’t meant to be discriminatory, but it was seen as such.”

Johan Meyer, Health Manager at OUT Well-being in Pretoria, welcomed the news: “This change in the SANBS policy is wonderful and a breakthrough for the LGBTI sector.”

“Now everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, is treated the same. It shows the value of good research, which can provide evidence for the basis of policy change,” he said.

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Last week, New Zealand shortened its ban on gay and bisexual blood donors.

In 1983, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implemented a lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men in response to the AIDS outbreak, and has since refused to amend that policy.

Last year, the American Medical Association, the largest association of physicians in the U.S., voted to oppose the ban, calling it “outdated,” “discriminatory” and “not based on sound science.”

The United Kingdom lifted its ban in 2011, allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood if they haven’t had sex with a man in the prior 12 months, and last year Canada reduced its lifetime ban to five years.

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