The nation’s AIDS organisations have been accused of misleading the community about blood donations in a vicious attack by Tasmanian rights activists.
The accusations arose after three of Australia’s leading AIDS bodies -“ the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), Australian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM) and AIDS Council of NSW (ACON) -“ placed an ad in the gay press last week to explain why they supported the Australian Red Cross’s policy of not accepting blood donations from men who have had sex with men in the last 12 months.
The activists have said they believed the information in the ad was flawed and that it undermined safe-sex messages.
Tasmanian man Michael Cain, 22, who lodged a complaint with the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission after he was blocked from giving blood, has gained the support of the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group (TGLRG).
The so called -˜experts’ have misquoted research, misrepresented donation guidelines, overlooked the international situation, and generally missed the point in such a way as to call their credibility into question, Cain said.
TGLRG spokesperson Rodney Croome accused the AIDS organisations of undermining the safe-sex message and putting gay men at risk from HIV.
For 20 years AIDS experts have been rightly telling us that safe sex is good enough to protect the lives of gay men, but now they’re saying it’s not good enough to protect the blood supply, Croome said.
By suggesting that safe sex doesn’t work, the very people who are entrusted to protect gay men from infection are sending out a highly irresponsible message that puts gay lives at risk.
Croome said it was particularly disappointing that they are using public funds set aside for HIV prevention to undermine the safe-sex message.
In a letter signed by Cain and Croome and sent to the nation’s AIDS organisations and LGBT groups, they claimed data from the UK used in the ad was wrong.
They said the Red Cross should not block gay men who practise safe sex and asked the organisations if they agreed.
Adrian Lovney, president of ACON, said it was the view of the majority of AIDS organisations in the country that the Red Cross policy was justified.
The Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group expressed their view far and wide in the last month or so. None of the organisations that have 20 years of history working in HIV have been consulted about that view. We disagree with that view and it’s important for there to be a diversity of views, Lovney told Sydney Star Observer.
When we express a contrary view, which we believe to be based on the evidence, we get attacked and the suggestion is we’re undermining the HIV response.
Some gay men are not entirely frank about their sexual history, and that is the basis on which the Red Cross makes assessments about risks and we support those assessments at this point in time, Lovney said.
He agreed it was important for people who felt they’d been discriminated against to be able to take action in the anti-discrimination tribunal. And if the Red Cross’s policy was the same in 10 years’ time and patterns of infection or HIV testing technology had changed, we’d be arguing for the policy to be changed as well, he said.
Elizabeth Dax is the immediate past president of ASHM and the director of the National Serology Reference Laboratory Australia, which is responsible for the quality of tests for blood-borne viruses.
Dax told Sydney Star Observer the Red Cross policy had nothing to do with an anti-gay agenda.
It’s clear that men who have sex with men -“ particularly if they have more than one partner -“ are at higher risk [of transmitting infections], no matter which way you look at it, she said.
I can’t donate because I lived in the UK for a period of time. If I went and lived in another country where malaria was prevalent I couldn’t donate.