Wednesday, April 17, 2024

NewsHorizon

Where your horizon expands every day.

BusinessWorld

Indian LGBTQ+ individuals call for the removal of a discriminatory ban on blood donation.


The air quality in Delhi remained at a “severe” level for the second day in a row on Tuesday, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation. – 

When Karan’s mother became sick, the 25-year-old homosexual man from New Delhi quickly went to donate blood. However, while completing the required donor form, he came to the realization that he would be rejected due to his sexual orientation and made a spontaneous choice.

Karan, the sole family member with the identical blood type as his mother, made the choice to falsely claim he was homosexual, potentially facing legal consequences.

Karan, whose full name is being withheld for his safety, expressed that he was terrified of being caught. However, his main concern at the time was his mother.

Karan informed the Thomson Reuters Foundation that he only came to the realization later that the actions were dehumanizing, damaging to his dignity, and a violation of his privacy as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in this nation.

The current regulations in India forbid transgender individuals, gay and bisexual men, and female sex workers from giving blood, even though there is a critical shortage in the most populous nation in the world. This goes against the global trend of lifting bans on blood donations by LGBTQ+ individuals.

The rules, which date back to the start of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, exclude members of those groups on the grounds that they are at high risk for the virus – even though all donated blood is screened for HIV.

According to UNAIDS, approximately 2.5 million individuals in India are currently diagnosed with HIV. Of the Trans Indian population, 3.8% are affected by the virus, while 3.3% of men who have sex with men also have HIV.

Donors must be free of any diseases that can be transmitted through blood transfusion, and should not be at risk for HIV, Hepatitis B, or C infections.

However, opponents argue that the policies prohibiting LGBTQ+ individuals were based on bias and prejudice rather than scientific evidence, and are urging the government to follow the lead of other nations and eliminate the ban.

Santa Khurai, a transgender activist from the state of Manipur in the northeast, stated that the government’s argument relies on the sexual behavior of the entire community. However, this generalization is unfair and unacceptable for all transgender individuals.

In 2021, Khurai submitted a request to the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of two parts of the blood donation policy. However, the government has stood by its guidelines, arguing that they are supported by scientific evidence.

Khurai is anticipating the date of the upcoming court hearing.

Requests for comment from India’s Health Ministry, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), and the National Blood Transfusion Council (NBTC) were not answered. These government agencies are responsible for managing blood donation.

 

GLOBAL SHIFT

Advocates for LGBTQ+ rights argue that India is not keeping up with the global trend of removing restrictions on LGBTQ+ individuals as blood donors.

In recent developments, the US Food and Drug Administration, responsible for managing the nation’s blood supply, has removed restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. This follows similar actions taken in Canada, France, Greece, Britain, and Germany.

The need for reform was brought to the forefront by the severe consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in India.

According to Aqsa Shaikh, an associate professor of community medicine at Hamdard Institute of Medical Science and Research, many LGBTQ+ individuals faced difficulty in finding donors from their own community because of the ban.

Shaikh, a transgender individual, stated that it is not only unscientific but also illogical to prohibit all trans individuals from donating blood, especially if they do not engage in high-risk activities such as sex work or penetrative sex.

Due to the lack of blood supply in India, numerous patients are forced to depend on their relatives for donations.

The current restrictions prevent LGBTQ+ individuals, who may be disconnected from their families due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, from receiving donations from their partners or friends in the community.

In 2021, Rohin Bhatt, a lawyer and bioethicist from Delhi, was unable to give blood and plasma to his friend’s husband who was hospitalized with COVID, even though he regularly got tested for sexually transmitted infections.

Bhatt, a non-binary queer individual, stated that the government should not marginalize or implement a blanket ban, but instead focus on enhancing their testing protocols for blood donors. They also asserted that they are not a carrier of any diseases.

In India, it is currently required that all donated blood units be tested for HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, syphilis, and malaria.

According to Anant Bhan, a public health researcher at Sangath, a nonprofit organization focused on mental health, the current practice of not allowing LGBTQ+ individuals to donate is misguided.

He stated that government health programs should prioritize inclusivity and move towards personalized risk evaluation instead of using a generalized approach based on gender identity.

Campaigners say that if the Supreme Court of India grants permission for same-sex marriage in an ongoing case, the regulations regarding blood donation would appear even more archaic.

Khurai expressed concern about the potential consequences of legalizing same-sex marriage. In a scenario where a married gay man requires a blood transfusion to survive, his partner would not be eligible to donate blood due to current guidelines.

Critics argue that the situation highlights ongoing prejudice against LGBTQ+ individuals in India, even five years after the country abolished homosexuality as a crime by repealing a portion of Section 377. This law was originally enacted by India’s former British colonizers and had been in place for nearly 160 years.

“This prohibition is biased,” stated Bhan. “It also prevents them from being able to contribute blood, which is a crucial resource for saving lives.” – Reuters