Beijing (China Daily/ANN) - Gay rights campaigners have welcomed the move to allow lesbians to donate blood as experts questioned if keeping the ban on homosexual men was effective in ensuring the safety of supplies.
From July 1 a blood donation ban lasting for more than 10 years on homosexuals was lifted for lesbians because of their low risk of HIV, according to the revised version of blood donor health requirements.
Under requirements issued in 2001, all homosexuals were prohibited from giving blood.
However, under the revisions, gay men are still barred together with drug addicts and people with multiple sexual partners.
In China, all potential blood donors have to fill in health declaration forms and undergo health checks before donation.
In the form people are supposed to reveal their sexual orientation.
"It's understandable to keep the ban on gay men, which is in line with international practices, but its real effect is highly questionable," said Zhang Beichuan, one of China's leading scholars on gay and lesbian issues. "It's hard to verify if a donor is gay or not, as people can lie on forms."
Xiao Dong, who heads an organisation committed to controlling HIV/AIDS among the gay community in Beijing, said the virus did not discriminate.
"Given that straight people might also be involved in unsafe sex and thus at risk of HIV/AIDS, the ban should apply to them as well, rather than exclusively for a certain group like gays.
"I've donated blood more than 10 times and never revealed my sexual orientation," Xiao, an openly gay man, told China Daily yesterday.
But he also said that some homosexual men still go for HIV screening at blood donation points as they do not know about the free voluntary testing services that are available.
Some homosexuals who were worried about seeing people they know and revealing their sexual orientation might also turn to blood donation for HIV screenings, he said.
Usually within a week of giving blood donors get a message telling them if their donated blood passed health checks, including HIV screening, for clinical uses or not.
Zhang said because of the nature of their sexual contact, gay men are at greater risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
The Ministry of Health said about 3 per cent of Chinese men who have sex with other men are HIV positive, a percentage far higher than the average for the entire population, which stands at about 0.057 per cent.
"Some gay men go to donate blood and in truth just want the HIV screening provided by blood banks, which poses challenges to blood supply safety," Zhang said.
He suggested better health education and HIV intervention among the gay population to address the problem.
"There should be more social tolerance toward this group, because without discrimination they are more likely to go to the government-run HIV testing clinics," Zhang said.
He welcomed the lifting of the ban on lesbians, saying that it reflects rising awareness.
A 35-year-old lesbian in Shandong province, who did not want to be identified, said she welcomed the change in regulations.
"It does encourage us to contribute to society by donating blood, particularly when many parts of the country are suffering blood shortages," she said.
In 2009 about 540 lesbians on the Chinese mainland signed a petition urging health authorities to remove the discriminatory ban.
Under the new health requirements, criminal penalties for people who donate infected blood in malicious revenge on society are clearly spelled out.
Also, the recommended donor age limit has been extended by five years to 60, effective July 1.
In 2011, Minister of Health Chen Zhu, then 58, pulled up his sleeves donating blood to encourage the public to follow his example.
Worldwide, some countries set the limit at 65 years old.