There was a policy passed in February 2019 that gay men can donate blood if they have had no sex with other men in the last four months. This new directive has been updated where previously they had to abstain from sex for 12 months. Before 2015, gay men were completely excluded from donating blood in the country. This change in the policy is a welcome one, but there is still a long way to go!
Excluding gay men: what was the policy before and how has it changed?
Gay men are considered as a high-risk group due to the risk of infection of HIV. The blood shows signs of the infection only after three months of exposure. Before 2015, the Netherlands was one of the many countries that completely excluded gay men from donating blood. However, after many efforts and lobbying, this policy was changed in the country to adopt many other countries’ policies like Australia, Sweden, and Portugal, to name a few.
Sanquin, the not-for-profit organisation that ensures risk-free transfusion of blood in the Netherlands, stated that the twelve month waiting period time was too long and discriminatory. They conduct research and create reports around everything to do with advanced blood transfusion medicine. They also determine who can and cannot donate blood in the Netherlands by evaluating high-risk behaviour. Zaaijer, a researcher at the blood bank told NOS that a period of twelve months was determined as this would guarantee that the blood is risk-free of the HIV virus. However, he also said that new data is available to reduce the waiting time to four months. The United Kingdom currently has a waiting time of three months.
Is it fair to exclude gay men from donating blood?
To understand that the waiting time and previous exclusion of gay men completely was unfair, we have to consider that straight people who have practiced unsafe sex, and therefore have a higher risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, are not excluded. The exclusion of gay men and men who have had sex with other men seems to be the only criteria for this unfair exclusion; not their high-risk or low-risk behaviours.
Gay men in monogamous relationships and who practice safe sex should be considered as low-risk, as there is a low chance that they would have been exposed to the virus. Therefore, there isn’t a reason for this discriminatory waiting time to exist. Shouldn’t the guiding principle for determining if a person can donate blood be their risk behaviours and not their sexual orientation? This exclusion and discrimination against gay men is outdated, as it should be more important if an individual is practicing safe sex, and not who they have sex with.
Have you tried donating blood in the Netherlands? Or do you want to become a donor? Visit the Sanquin website to determine if you can become a donor!
Read more about LGBT equality in the Netherlands here, and let us know in the comments about what you think about these policy changes!