BEING gay is no longer a barrier to giving blood in South Africa with the country’s national blood service issuing new, non-discriminatory guidelines for donations.

The country’s new policy dumps references to men in relationships with other men and now bans everyone from giving blood if they have begun a sexual relationship in the previous six months or have multiple partners.

According to Mamba Online, Vanessa Raju, of the South African National Blood Service (SANBS), said donors would now be asked about monogamy, not sexuality, when they went to give blood.

“This policy would apply to me, for example, who’s just started dating someone new,” she said.

“But people who are in monogamous male same-sex relationships [for more than six months] can now donate.”

Under the previous policy, men who had sex with men were banned from donating blood until they had been celibate for at least six months — in effect excluding the vast majority of gay men.

The policy was seen as discriminatory in South Africa due to HIV being primarily prevalent in the heterosexual community.

Raju said the blood service had based its previous policy on international data but now had the “local facts” around the risks of HIV in South Africa.

“The policy wasn’t meant to be discriminatory, but it was seen as such,” she said.

Johan Meyer, of South African LGBTI health organisation OUT Well-being, welcomed the news.

“This change in the SANBS policy is wonderful and a breakthrough for the LGBTI sector,” he said.

In Australia, men who have had sex with men within the previous 12 months are unable to donate blood.

In late 2013, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) —Australia’s regulatory agency for medical drugs and devices — blocked a recommendation from the Australian Red Cross Blood Service to reduce the waiting period for blood donations from sexually-active men who have sex with men from 12 to six months.

In response to queries from the Star Observer today, the TGA stated that reducing the waiting period in Australia could increase the risk of an infection being passed on to a blood recipient but with no significant boost to donor numbers.

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