Social Issues

Despite dearth of donors, Venezuelan blood banks often exclude gay men

By Hector Pereira

Caracas, Jun 14 (EFE).- Only 1 percent of the adult population in Venezuela donates blood voluntarily, according to medical estimates, a statistic that reflects a lack of functioning blood banks but also an unwritten – though oft-observed – rule that excludes gay men.

Although men who have sex with men are not barred from being donors under the country’s Law on Transfusions and Blood Banks, health facilities in practice reject these people – often based solely on their appearance and even when the hospital’s reserves of donated blood are completely depleted.

Denounced by human rights activists and organizations, that reality is one of the forms of institutional discrimination faced by the LGBTI community in Venezuela, which on Wednesday is marking World Blood Donor Day by urging people to make that voluntary, life-saving gift.

The president of the Venezuelan Hemotherapy Society, Lia Talavera, said this form of discrimination continues to exist even though it has no place in today’s world.

“They (LGBTI victims of discrimination) are right,” said the specialist, who is working with other organizations and lawmakers to restructure the existing law that dates back to 1977.

Gay men were initially barred from donating blood due to the greater prevalence of HIV/AIDS in that community at the end of the 20th century, according to Talavera, who said persistent discrimination remains an unresolved problem at the country’s nearly 400 blood banks.

She said this situation is particularly dire due to the “non-existent” donor culture in Venezuela, where, according to her organization, the share of the population that voluntarily donates blood has fallen from 5 percent in 2018 to 1 percent in 2021.

Because of that low percentage, patients badly in need of blood often must rely on their family members to find heterosexual donors in a matter of hours.

Although the government reiterated this week that blood donors need only be of legal age, show an ID and weigh more than 50 kilograms (110 pounds), the non-governmental organization Accion Solidaria told Efe that blood banks do not follow those guidelines and that discrimination against LGBTI individuals is widespread.

That NGO’s HIV Response coordinator, Cesar Pacheco, said potential donors “are asked specific questions that are basically geared toward seeing what (their) sexual orientation is.”

He therefore said the “policies that promote blood donation in the country must be reviewed and better adapted to the current context of scientific advances, where there’s no reason whatsoever” for excluding members of the LGBTI community.

The activist said he believes there is a major lack of awareness about human sexuality among health personnel that carries over into their professional practice.

Three blood banks in Caracas refused to show Efe the questionnaire would-be donors must fill out, a preliminary step prior to an oral interview in which workers at those centers decide whether or not to give them their final approval.



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