Sunday, September 18, 2005

Tumhara khoon khoon hai aur hamara khoon...? Or why is blood donation by gay men unwelcome?

I started donating blood in my first year of college (in the mid-'80s). This became an annual practice for five years since the college had yearly blood collection drives. There was little awareness of HIV then, among people generally and I myself was pretty ignorant. I also donated blood a couple of times after graduation as a 'replacement donor' when dad was hospitalized twice (the first time in a Mumbai hospital and the second in a suburban nursing home).

The second time it involved traveling to a blood bank in a distant Mumbai suburb. On both occasions I had to fill in a form that more or less has a standard questionnaire about the donor's previous medical history. I am not sure about the first instance but the second time (at the blood bank) one of the questions was about (I do not remember the exact verbiage or the year in the question) whether the (male) donor has had sex with a man after 197x.

Was the bloodbank or the government (presuming that was the govt.'s idea to put that question) expecting an honest answer to that from anyone? Well, I gave an honest answer. I admit I was a little scared -- not of being outed -- but of being prosecuted under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code for "unnatural sex".

I got away with it the first time and the next few times that the bloodbank requested my blood (they would call me every few months--I have one of the rarer blood groups).

Someone at the bloodbank actually noticed my answer one time, it seems. They did not take my blood that time. A few weeks later they called me again and I told them that I did not want to come because they have rejected my blood for being gay. Apparently, the person on the other end of the phone line was as shocked as the one who had noticed my affirmative answer previously, and hung up without a word.

I did not donate blood since then, until last year, at my workplace. In spite of being handed a list of (dos and) don'ts that listed sex between men (there was no mention of this on the questionnaire, though).

I do not know what the current official policy is blood donation by 'practicing' gay men, but I was happy that I could help out a patient at a major Bombay hospital who needed blood recently, without killing myself about being dishonest--there was no question this time about my sexuality! Stupid bloodbank or enlightened policy?

It may be true that anal sex without a condom is high-risk behavior as far as HIV and sexually transmitted infections are concerned. But isn't it also true that peno-vaginal sex without condoms are almost as unsafe? So why stop gay men from donating blood when we hear of chronic blood shortages in this country?

Incidentally, methinks screening donated blood for HIV is redundant because of the 'window period'.

Many countries ban blood donation by gay men (does anyone know India's position?), but recently this has been challenged in Tasmania, Australia, as reported last month.

Perhaps we are some years away from decriminalizing homosexuality in India and the blood donation ban. Meanwhile, gay men will die from lack of access to information on HIV and health resources. And heterosexuals will die from lack of gay blood.


Da said...

da, i perfectly agree to your comment that gay men will die for lack of knowledge about HIV and the hetros would die out of lack of blood from the gay men. This is reallt very disgusting and humiliating to the Gay Community. I personally agree to the fact that anal sex can be more prone to HIV being infected but that does not at all give room to accept the fact that hetro sex - peno-vaginal as the nomenclature is - is very safe. I am happy that you raised voice against it while in work. Hoping to see some positive results the next time they have their blood donation program

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