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Blood banks outlaw gay donors despite shortages

india Updated: Jul 15, 2009 02:33 IST
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Homosexuals are banned from donating blood at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, a 650-bed private hospital in central Delhi with a daily footfall of 6,000.

Other premier hospitals such as the 350-bed Moolchand Medcity ask for the sexual preference of donors, while the Escorts Heart Institute discourages homosexuals from donating even if they meet all health parameters.

Ganga Ram bans homosexuals outright by listing homosexuality as a disease along with others that make people ineligible from donating, such as heart disease, jaundice, tuberculosis, HIV, and diabetes.

“Calling homosexuality a disease is an outdated concept,” said Dr S.P. Agarwal, secretary general, Indian Red Cross Society. “The WHO removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1990. Homosexuality is not mentioned as a disease in the Red Cross Society donor forms or the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules.”

Donor forms at central and Delhi government hospitals — such as AIIMS, Safdarjung Hospital and Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital— do not show such prejudice.

There is an acute shortage of blood in Delhi. According to the IRCS, the annual demand is for 4.5 lakh to 5 lakh units of blood, but only 3.5 lakh units are collected through replacement and voluntary donation.

“We aren’t calling homosexuality a disease,” said Dr B.K. Rao, chairman, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

“It’s just that these people come under the high-risk category. They are prone to acquiring sexually transmitted diseases and certain immuno-deficiencies.”

Though Escorts and Moolchand do not have the word ‘homosexual’ on their donor form, doctors admit they discourage homosexuals from donating.

“The infection risk is higher because of the probability of multiple partners,” said Dr R.C. Khurana, head of transfusion, Escorts Heart Institute. “Since there is always this chance, we discourage them to donate.”

Dr K.K. Aggarwal, chief physician, Moolchand Medcity, said they enquired about the donor’s sexual preference to eliminate all chances of taking contaminated blood from high-risk cases or homosexuals with multiple partners.

The doctors could not explain why they assumed that only homosexuals, and not heterosexuals, had multiple partners.

“This is ridiculous,” said Sujatha Rao, director general, National AIDS Control Organisation.

“According to the National Blood Policy, any healthy person between the age of 18 and 60 years can donate blood. The idea is to encourage safe blood donation and not stigmatise.”

She said the only ones who could not donate were people with infections such as malaria, hepatitis or HIV and with chronic conditions.

The gay community expressed outraged. “How can hospitals call homosexuality an illness?” said Bharat Singh, a 28-year-old entrepreneur.