The hand of a blood donor squeezing a medical rubber ball

Working group given one week to review complex issue of gay men giving blood

The incredibly complex issue of how gay men should give blood has been passed to a working group set up by the Portuguese government – and given precisely one week to define a rather nebulous rule that has been in place nationally since 2016, but isn’t being adhered to.

The 2016 ‘norma’ issued by the DGS health authority removed previous restrictions on homosexuals and bisexuals responding to appeals for blood donations, with one major ‘condition’. Gay or bisexual men had to have been either faithful to one partner or celibate for a period ranging from six to 12 months before giving blood – thus removing the risk of having acquired ‘serious infectious diseases susceptible of being transmitted through blood’.

This is a condition on all blood donors – but the 2016 ‘norma’ laid it out specifically in the context of opening donations to gay and bisexual men.

That said, during the recent appeal for citizens to give blood because reserves had run low in the pandemic (click here), one young Portuguese man spent three hours in a queue, and another hour being prepped before he was told that his blood was not suitable, because “men who have sex with other men cannot give blood”

This is diametrically opposed to the apparent policy of IPST (the Portuguese Institute of Blood and Transplantation) which told Lusa that it “does not question the sexual orientation of potential donors” and that “any citizen (can) elect to give blood, no matter their sex or sexual orientation”.

Thus Bruno Gomes d’Almeida – the young man whose blood was refused – stood up for his right to give blood just like anyone else – and politicians have been scrabbling about to set the issue straight ever since.

The concern is to remove any ‘discrimination against homosexuals’ giving blood.

The working group was set up by health secretary António Lacerda Sales “following conclusion of a study by INSA (the national health institute Dr Ricardo Jorge) on “risk behaviours with impact on the security of blood and management of donors”. It involves representatives of the DGS and INSA and will be consulting with ‘entities in civil society’.

Globally, however, very few countries share the same policies on gay men and blood donatins.

Wikipedia explains “many countries have laws, regulations or recommendations that effectively prohibit donations of blood from men who have sex with men”. 

Other countries have what they term ‘deferral periods’ (a period of time in which they want assurances that the men have not been sexually active, or have not changed partners). But again, as Wikipedia says, “many deferrals are indefinite meaning that donations are not accepted at any point in the future, constituting a de facto ban. Even men who have monogamous relations with their same-sex partner are found ineligible”.

The pandemic has seen some countries, like the United States and Canada, relax deferral periods from one year to three months. The FDA (United States Food & Drug Administration) has stated that it expects these changes to remain in place even after the pandemic ends. And in the UK, rules have changed to the extent that from this summer, men who have sex with men in a long-term relationship will be able to donate blood with no deferral period at all.

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