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Blood donation

Red Cross proposal would address gay donor discrimination

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Gay men will be able to donate blood in Switzerland in the future if the recommendations of the Swiss Red Cross blood service, Swiss Transfusion SRC, are followed. But initially the donors would be required to confirm they have not had sex with other men at any time in the past year.

Swiss Transfusion SRC plans to submit the request for a change to Swissmedic, the federal authority responsible for approving medicines and medical devices, it said at a press conference on Monday. If the proposed change is accepted, it will go into effect in 2018 at the earliest.

Blanket, definitive exclusion of homosexuals as blood donors is counterproductive, according to Swiss Transfusion SRC. It is more likely to cause gay donors to be less than candid in answering the screening questions, said Rudolf Schwabe, director of Swiss Transfusion SRC, in an interview with Swiss public television, SRF.

Gay men have been banned from donating blood in Switzerland since 1985, as a result of the worldwide AIDS crisis. The prevalence of HIV is around 10% in gay men, compared to 0.3% in heterosexuals.

Although blood is tested for diseases following donation, it is possible for a donor to have an infection in a very early stage which is not yet recognized, causing a false negative test. For the HIV virus the diagnostic window is seven days, for Hepatitis C it is around five days, and for Hepatitis B it is 20 days.

Currently, gay men are excluded from donating blood in Switzerland if they have had sex with another man at least once since 1977. Gay rights groups like Switzerland’s Pink Cross consider this rule discriminatory.

Last autumn, in response to an inquiry by a member of the centre-right Radical Party, the Swiss cabinet said that “all efforts must be made so that risk behaviour, and not sexual orientation, becomes the grounds for exclusion”. Pink Cross and Swiss Transfusion SRC are both in favour of this approach.

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