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Rights groups
protest South Africa’s ban on gay blood donors

Rights groups
protest South Africa’s ban on gay blood donors

On Monday, South Africa's leading gay rights group called on the nation's National Blood Services to reconsider its policy banning blood donations by sexually active gay men. "We feel very strongly that they are discriminating against the gay community," said Marlow Valentine of the Cape Town-based Triangle Project.

In a statement last week, blood bank chief Robert Crookes said men who have had sex with men in the last five years would not be allowed to donate blood because of the risk of transmitting HIV. NBS said it screens every donation but that with even the most sophisticated tests there is a brief period after infection when HIV is not detectable.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a fringe group, said its members protested the policy by donating 120 units of blood Friday without disclosing their sexual histories. NBS spokesman Ianthe Exall said the group later claimed that 65% of its donors had engaged in high-risk sex and did not know their HIV status and that at least one donor had been diagnosed with AIDS. NBS staff were attempting to verify these claims. Some other gay groups blasted this tactic as irresponsible, saying the dispute should be resolved through dialogue.

Activists said the NBS policy is based on old research from the United States, where AIDS initially emerged in the gay community. In sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, AIDS is largely a heterosexual disease, with women ages 15-24 up to four times more likely to be infected than males ages 15-24.

NBS might be prepared to reword the questionnaire to avoid stigmatizing gay men, provided there is statistical evidence to support the change, Exall said. (AP)

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