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Why NACO's Ban On Blood Donation By The LGBTQ Community Smacks Of Bias

Apparently, they are a 'high-risk' group.

19/07/2017 12:15 PM IST | Updated 19/07/2017 12:17 PM IST
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In what seems like yet another discrimination that the LGBTQ community in India is facing, the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) has allegedly said in an RTI reply that people from the community cannot donate blood because they are at 'high-risk'.

DNA reported that the RTI was filed by activist Chetan Kothari and a reply was given by Jolly Lazarus after it was received by NACO's Blood Safety Division.

But this is not new, a report in 2015 by The Hindustan Times said that several big hospitals in Delhi disqualified homosexuals from donating blood.

It had reported that Sri Ganga Ram Hospital and Escorts Heart Institute did not accept blood donation from homosexuals while Moolchand Medcity asked for the sexual preference of donors. Homosexuals are considered at 'high-risk' from communicable diseases.

Sambuddha Chaudhuri, who has a PHD in public health research and has worked with patients living with HIV/AIDS, told HuffPost India that these fears are completely unfounded. He said such bizarre and antiquated laws have "little support in science".

"Blood samples need to be screened for HIV and other viruses anyway before try are transfused , so setting up a check like this does little for securing extra safe blood samples. This will only go to alienate and discourage blood donation not only in men who have sex with men, but also other urban youth who may see themselves as progressive allies," he said.

"This kind of an approach is a classic regressive move where you adopt the most reactionary, socially conservative and scientifically under-supported approach that some western country has (the US) which is being challenged there. It is like shopping for expired/dated medicines from the first world which is trying to sell off its old stock," Chaudhuri said.

In fact, the US also overturned its age-old law of banning homosexuals from donating blood in 2015, albeit with several biased caveats.

The first rule, a homosexual man could only give blood 12 months after their last sexual contact with another man, was clearly as discriminatory as the no-blood donation rule.

Kiran Verma, who founded 'Simply Blood', an app that connects blood donors to patients, said the rule is ethically both correct and incorrect.

"If you look at the issue, it is less about their orientation and more about their lifestyle. There are a few STDs that create problems among patients. We have not developed the technology to screen these things in the blood," he said.

When pointed out that today even straight people have multiple sexual partners and a homosexual person could also be monogamous, he said, "Medically, the sexuality of homosexuals is an unexplored area. It is a very complex issue. And it completely depends on a donor to ensure that they are aware of risks for patients before donating blood."

However, Verma said there is indeed an ingrained hypocrisy in the system, and that needs to be changed.

And how do we bring about that change? Chaudhuri said: "Lots of published reports are available which show how such regressive moves can adversely affect blood supply and other public health measures . The day immunities and middle class civil society should register its protest through the usual routes."

And while sensitizing the bureaucracy that makes laws is a long-term solution, "This is an outrage on the same spectrum (though not equal to ) as ban on beef, a basic rejection of the humanity of minority groups."

The most surprising bit? While NACO said the LGBTQ are a 'high-risk' group, their National Blood Policy states that "Donor must be 18-60 years age and having a minimum weight of 50Kg can donate blood. Any donor, who is healthy, fit and not suffering from any transmittable diseases can donate blood."

Inherent bias is perhaps one of the main reasons stopping authorities from letting healthy adults who are homosexuals from donating blood.

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