Lifetime ban on donating blood should be scrapped, say sex workers

Nearly 9 out of 10 (89%) sex workers don’t agree with the current rule banning them for life from giving blood, Terrence Higgins Trust’s new report has found.

The report [PDF] shows that the vast majority (98%) of current and former sex workers are aware of their HIV status and 98% also rated their sexual health as ‘very important’.

Current rules state you must never give blood if you have ever received money or drugs for sex – yet 61% of the sex workers we asked thought that former-sex workers should have a deferral period in-line with other current deferral periods.

The survey gives the first insight into sex workers’ views on the ban, recognising it as being ‘inequitable, unscientific and stigmatising’.

The survey of 88 sex workers, which included 71 currently working and 17 who are now retired, showed that the majority (61%) said it was ‘very important’ to be able to donate blood if they chose to and if there was no existing health reason why they should not.

Four out of five of respondents who are still sex workers had not had condomless sex with a client in the last 12 months.

The survey also found that 98% of respondents rated their sexual health as being ‘very important’, with 76% attending a sexual health clinic or GP for a sexual health check up at least once every 3 months, and 98% of respondents knowing their HIV status.

Alex Phillips, Blood Donations Policy Lead at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We know that the majority of sex workers take great care of their sexual health, as their livelihood depends on it, and the evidence from our survey backs this up. Many sex workers therefore feel that the current lifetime ban is inequitable, unscientific and stigmatising.

“The 2011 review into blood donations by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood Tissues and Organs (SaBTO), failed to look at the ban to donate blood enforced on current and former sex workers.

“Now with their current review, as well as considering the latest available data, we finally have an opportunity to address the contradictions attached to the lifetime ban on sex workers.”

Only 32% of sex workers surveyed were aware that the current rule also bans clients and partners of sex workers from giving blood for 12 months after sex. A staggering 92% of respondents disagreed with this ban.

“Sex workers want to be able to give blood,” added Alex, “and based on this evidence, we are advocating for a change to the current lifetime ban on donating blood, that both current and former sex workers are subject to.”

Terrence Higgins Trust’s report will now be presented as evidence to the current inquiry on blood donations being undertaken by SaBTO. Their recommendations were expected after the general election, which will then be considered by the new Government.

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