You may have seen it in your promoted tweets, maybe someone you know has shared a Facebook post, pleading the plight of the NHS shortage of blood. So much so that last year the NHS launched a thought-provoking campaign last year called #missingtype highlighting that more blood than ever is needed.
Yet despite this urgency and coverage for everyone to donate, one particular type of person still isn’t welcome.
Put simply, MSM (men who had sex with other men), anytime at all in the last 12 months are still banned from donating blood. That includes your monogamous partner or boyfriend whom you’ve been with for x number of years. Oh, that still includes sexual activity with a condom too. Think this is the norm in most countries? Think again. Portugal, Spain, Italy, South Africa and Russia to name but a few, allow gay men to donate with no deferral.
The ban of course is down to the perceived-prevalence of HIV. While men who have sex with men makes up the largest group of people who are most likely to be diagnosed with HIV (making up 55% of the total), this doesn’t mean heterosexuals (who make up 40%) are any less immune to contracting the virus by sexual transmission. The “Safety of Blood, Tissue and Organs” committee are responsible for protecting patients and setting the eligibility of who can donate, but despite the NHS screening every donation of blood for hepatitis B and HIV. They have still barred a sexual orientation rather than a promiscuous lifestyle.
We can only hope this law changes for the assumption that gay blood isn’t exclusively bad blood. If anyone knows anything about the consequence of blind-ignorance however, it’s Anthony Nolan, the charity committed to saving the lives of people with Blood Cancer and seeks people under 30 years of age and in good health to join their register. Oh you’re Gay? That’s cool. They don’t care. An assumption that many gay and bisexual men make that just because they can’t donate their blood, doesn’t mean they’re barred from other donor registers.
Anthony Nolan faces an uphill battle, to the uninformed, the thought of bone marrow transplant screams images of rusty hacksaws and excruciating pain. When surveyed in a recent YouGov poll, 36% percent of men aged 16-30 avoided the idea of bone marrow donation on the basis that it would be painful.
This couldn’t be further than the truth. Donating stem cells is no more painful than a session at a gym and nine times out of ten, collected the same way as a blood donation (the procedure known as “Peripheral Blood Stem Cell donation”). The other way is an actual bone marrow surgical operation, which donor Stuart Brooks, a gay trainee lawyer, states that the most painful thing about the entire process was removing the surgical tape from his arms rather than the operation itself.
Signing up to the register is mind-numbingly effortless, no appointments, no consultations, no needles. You register online, A kit comes in the post, spit in it. Send it back in a pre-paid envelope. A week later, your welcome pack arrives. That’s it. You are now capable of saving SOMEONE’S life from blood cancer
Plus I’d give any excuse to miss a few days of work and give myself an actual credible reason to feel smug.
In many ways being on the registry is a far more critical than giving blood. You can’t rely on someone else to donate, there isn’t a universal tissue type either unlike blood (O negative, which ironically, is what I am). Your literal “one-in-a million” tissue type combination may be the only one to save that one critically ill patient who needs your help, if you’re not on the registry to match with them, they face near-certain death. It’s as cut-throat as that.
Every 20 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with a type of blood cancer, be it leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma, needing a lifesaving stem cell transplant. The chances of a match are far from guaranteed, especially from minority backgrounds where a match is only found 40% of the time on the register. Anthony Nolan especially needs people from mixed-race and minority backgrounds. But that’s not to say that if you’re white and male you’re not just as vital.
Men make up only 15% of the entire Anthony Nolan registry, yet make up 80% of all the matches. Men produce far more stem cells than women, so as of a result are more likely to be chosen as donors.
You might never get that call saying you’re a match for someone, but then you can take comfort that you know that someone hasn’t needlessly died because you never signed up.
There’s still many restrictions on what gay and bisexuals can partake in worldwide, with stigmas attached from these restrictions, but this is a charity who’s tackling ignorance and assumption head on, seeing gay men as the valuable resource they can be rather than something to be averse to. Something which I proudly want to be apart of. There’s many ways of measuring one’s successes and contributions. But I can’t see an achievement any greater, nor more rewarding, than saving someone’s life.
You can sign up to the Anthony Nolan register here at anthonynolan.org