The Chinese Ministry of Health lifted a 14-year-old ban preventing homosexuals from donating blood, sort of — lesbians can now donate blood, as can men who are gay but not sexually active. But men who engage in sex with men still cannot donate blood. The ban was put in place in 1998, driven by fears of the spread of HIV.
This new rule has caused arguments in China about gender inequality. The deputy director of Nanjing’s Red Cross Blood Center, Fu Qiang, told Sohu, a Chinese news website, that the difference is necessary because lesbians and gay men engage in different types of sex. Gay men are statistically more likely to transmit AIDS than lesbians. The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, in the United States, men who have sex with men accounted for 61 percent of all new HIV infections in 2009 and 49 percent of people living with HIV in 2008.
The numbers of gay men infected with AIDS have increased in China since 2005, when only o.4 percent of gay men were listed as having HIV. Now, 20 percent of gay men in China are infected with the HIV virus. Last year, 50 percent of HIV-positive carriers were men who were sexually active with other men.
In the U.S., gay men have been barred from blood donations since the 1980s because of fears about AIDS transmission through contaminated blood supplies. But when the U.S. suffered a nationwide shortfall in blood donations in June, 64 U.S. legislators wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services calling for a study that could lead to the end of the ban.
New technology means the HIV virus can often be detected in infected blood, greatly lowering the possibility of AIDS transmission through blood donations. That has brought an end to bans on gay men donating blood in some parts of the world.
Last year, England, Scotland and Wales allowed gay men who have not had sex with another man within one year to donate their blood. Australia, Sweden and Japan have the same one-year limitation; South Africa’s restriction is only six months.
The French Ministry of Health plans to allow gay men to donate blood starting in July (though it may ban people with multiple sexual partners).
All this seems to beg a question: How do governments verify when a person’s most recent sexual encounter was?