Blood donation
South Africa's previous policy on blood donation was perceived as discriminatory against gay men

Gay South African men are now allowed to donate blood as a new non-discriminatory policy has been implemented by the government, reports.

Prior to the new policy, gay men were seen as having a high risk of being infected with HIV and could only donate blood to the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) if they had been celibate for six months or longer.

The old policy was perceived to unfairly target gay men, as it allowed heterosexual people who engaged in equally risky or casual sex to donate.

"It took us a while because we didn't have local facts that warranted changing our policy, although we knew South Africa was different from other countries in terms of risk of HIV," said Vanessa Raju, SANBS Communications Manager.

"The policy wasn't meant to be discriminatory, but it was seen as such," she admitted. "We then worked closely with the Department of Health and other organisations to reassess the situation."

Following the implementation of the new regulation, anyone who has a new sexual partner will not be allowed to donate blood for six months, and anyone who has multiple partners will not be allowed to donate blood. Both criteria are irrespective of a person's sexual orientation.

"This policy would apply to me, for example, who's just started dating someone new," Raju explained. "But people who are in monogamous male same-sex relationships [for more than six months] can now donate."

Johan Meyer, Health Manager at OUT Well-being in Pretoria, welcomed the news.

"This change in the SANBS policy is wonderful and a breakthrough for the LGBTI sector. The previous policy was seen as discriminatory, although it was not meant to be" Meyer said.

"Now everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, is treated the same. It shows the value of good research, which can provide evidence for the basis of policy change."

Blood donation policies perceived as discriminatory against gay men are in place in many countries.

In England, Scotland and Wales, men are not permitted to give blood for 12 months after having sex with another man. In Northern Ireland, men who have sex with men are permanently banned from donating blood.

Similar bans are in place in the US and France.