Reducing the deferral period for blood donation for men having sex with other men (MSM) from five years to six months by the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) is just a waste of time, say gay organisations.

This follows an announcement made by the SANBS about the development after meeting with various gay and lesbian organisations, including researchers in February 2006 when they discussed the issue of the exclusion of MSM. However, SANBS has only agreed to change the five-year ban into a six month deferral.

OUT-LGBT-Wellbeing’s advocacy officer Fikile Vilakazi argues that, without evidence of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS within this group in South Africa, this is a waste of time.

“Whether the deferral period is five years or six months, it is still exclusive and discriminatory. So what is the point? The research has not been done and no one knows what the prevalence is”.

In response, SANBS said that they have approached the Human Science Research Council (HSRC) to conduct research that would produce the South African version of the relevant data; overseas data has previously been relied on.

However SANBS does not know when this will commence.

Speaking for SANBS, leading medical consultant responsible for donor services, Dr Paddy Knox admitted that reducing the deferral period doesn’t make much difference for MSM.

He did say however that, “We have modified this period to make it consistent with other high risk behaviours such as people having sex with sex workers or people having multiple partners or having sex for money. We believe that the shorter the deferral period the more accurate the information will be when they are answering their donor questionnaires because it will be easy for people to remember what they did in six months than what they did five years ago.”

She added that; “We have approached the Human Science Research Council, (and) they seemed interested but we cannot say when they will start the research. The new donor criteria (the six months deferral period) will be implemented in October 1 this year.”

SANBS has also embarked on a process of reviewing its donor questionnaire and donor selection. It will continue to defer MSM until such time as when results of the research into the HIV/ Aids infection rate among MSM are available.

Nthateng Mhlambiso

Behind the Mask

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