The South African National Blood Service (SANBS) has been approached by SA GLAAD in an effort to again review its restriction on gay male donors. Currently, the donor screening process allows gay males to donate blood if they have been celibate for six-months, whereas before the policy was reviewed in 2006 gay males were banned from donating at all.

“This… means that for a man of this calibre to be a regular blood donor, he must in fact stay celibate for the duration of his life, therefore eliminating the ‘risky gay factor’ from the equation and making his blood clean enough to offer to a person in need,” said SA GLAAD’s Louise Reardon in a statement.

SA GLAAD questioned the logic of singling gay men when it comes to risky anal sex, as many heterosexual people also practice this. It also argued that Individual Nucleic Acid Testing, which is used to test all donated blood for HIV, “should be the one and only foolproof way of preventing unsafe blood donation, instead of relying on people’s honesty in unreliable pre-donor questionnaires.”

According to Reardon, SANBS has responded, saying that it is working with the Medical Research Council and the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa to undertake a study to investigate the prevalence of HIV in gay males in South Africa. However, until it has obtained this information, it will not be willing to review any further changes in gay male donor specifications.

Reardon has called for continuous lobbying for the current deferral period to be abolished, “and for SANBS’s donor screening to rely on solid medical evidence and testing as opposed to questionnaires that hold a large margin for error.”

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