Homosexual men will be authorised to give blood starting July 1, 2017. Donors must nevertheless have been sexually abstinent for 12 months. Is this the end of this discrimination?
The Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products, Swissmedic, approved the July 2016 request of the Swiss Red Cross blood service Swiss Transfusion SRCexternal link to end the exclusion of blood donations from homosexual men, which was instituted in 1988 due to the risk of HIV transmission.
The lifting of the ban is nevertheless subject to very strict conditions. Homosexual men wishing to donate blood must have been abstinent for 12 months. In addition, ongoing monitoring of new risk assessment is required, as well as an assessment of risk posed by those who fail the tests. Finally, a report on the effects of the new fitness criteria for donations from gay men must be established annually.
Swiss Transfusion SRC welcomed the decision taken by Swissmedic, but judged it as being "far from perfect." This solution can only be provisional, estimated the independent society attached to the Swiss Red Cross, because it is inapplicable to many gay men.
"Secondly, it should be based on actual personal behaviour rather than on sexual orientation," argued Swiss Transfusion SRC director Rudolf Schwabe.
A long-term goal is differentiated evaluation of risk behaviour for all blood donors.
Several organisations defending the rights of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) people call the exclusion discriminatory.
"The rule is hypocritical. Under the pretext of safety, one excludes an entire section of society," Mehdi Künzle, co-president of Pink Cross, told swissinfo.ch.
Switzerland has adopted the same system as France, which decided to open blood donation to homosexuals starting in spring 2016, under certain conditions. Several European countries have already withdrawn the exclusion and have decided to authorise homosexuals to give blood without restriction – notably Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Poland.
Blood shortage in Switzerland
The use of blood in Swiss public hospitals fell by 3% in 2016, in line with the trend of the past few years: since 2013, the cumulative decline has been about 20%, according to Swiss Transfusion SRC.
But the current flu epidemic, more virulent and starting earlier than last year, has taxed the supply, particularly of blood types Rh negative. While stocks have been filled, the situation remains tenuous. Swiss Transfusion SRC plans to launch a national call for blood donation soon. (source: Swiss News Agency)