Campaigners are marking World Blood Donor Day by calling for the ban and restrictions on gay men giving blood to be lifted globally.
Today (14 June), the World Health Organization (WHO) is urging people to be a ‘hero’ and give the ‘life-saving gift’ of blood.
On its website, the UN agency states that ‘every one of us can become a hero simply by giving blood’.
However, gay and bisexual men in most countries around the world are banned entirely from donating and in many where it is allowed, are required to abstain from sex for at least a year.
Gay rights activists are urging for an end to ‘unjustified discrimination’ against gay and bisexual blood donors.
‘Protecting the blood supply is the number one priority,’ global human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told Gay Star News.
‘But ensuring blood safety does not require a rule that men who have sex with men cannot donate blood for a year or more since their last same-sex encounter.’
He added: ‘Governments, medical associations and international bodies like the World Health Organization have a duty to press for a global agreement to end unjustified discrimination against gay and bisexual blood donors.’
Tatchell suggests as well as reducing the exclusion period for gay and bisexual men, a ‘safe blood’ education campaign should be launched to ensure no one donates blood if they are at risk of HIV and other blood-borne infections due to unsafe sexual behaviour.
He said: ‘We also need a major drive to vaccinate gay and bisexual men against Hepatitis A and B, to protect their health and to prevent these infections getting into the blood supply.
‘In addition, the questionnaire that would-be blood donors have to answer should be made more detailed for men who’ve had sex with men, in order to more accurately identify the degree of risk, if any, that their blood may pose.
‘A few additional questions would improve donor awareness of risk factors and more accurately exclude those whose blood may not be safe.’
UK-based gay rights group Stonewall said while last year’s change in the law in Britain, which allowed men who have sex with men to give blood after a year without intercourse, was a ‘step in the right direction’, it did not go far enough to end unfair discrimination of gay men.
‘The safety of the blood supply is of paramount importance,’ said Stonewall’s Andy Wasley.
‘But unfortunately there’s still a ban on gay and bisexual men who have only engaged in low risk sexual activity from giving blood, while straight people who take part in higher risk sexual activity can still do so.
‘We know that there is a chronic shortage of blood donations in this country and, quite frankly, to cut out 1.7 million people if they happen to have safe sex doesn’t help us tackle that problem.’
He added that it is ‘not a closed case’ and points to countries such as Spain, Italy, Australia and New Zealand where gay men are allowed to donate as long as they don’t pose a risk to the blood supply.
Wasley said: ‘What we hope really is that the big NHS organizations around the world eventually come round to the point of view that men who don’t pose a risk to blood supply shouldn’t be banned from giving blood.’