Today, the World Health Organisation wants you to be a silent hero. A simple act with the power to save lives will be encouraged across the globe. World Blood Donor Day celebrates those who give blood with events in more than 40 countries. The UK goes further than most, hosting a National Blood Week that urges people to make a date to donate.
Unless you’re gay. Gay men cannot donate blood in the UK until they have abstained from sex for at least one year. This guideline was onlyrecently introduced – it took until 2011 for the National Blood Service to recognise that there is no innate danger in someone’s sexuality. Before late last year, gay men were in the same risk category as people with hepatitis and heroin addicts. No openly gay man could donate blood, ever. This was based on legislation from the 1980s, when HIV scaremongering was at its height.
For decades the fear of HIV transmission perpetuated the ban. It has taken robust research from the advisory committee on the safety of blood, tissues and organs (SaBTO), and studies from countries such as Australia, who have more liberal donation guidelines, to enable a change in policy.