12/08/2014 05:05 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

It's Time to Allow Gay Men to Donate Blood

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Gay men face obstacles to donating blood in more than 50 countries, including Brazil. It's time to change that.

About 50 countries preclude gay men from donating blood, regardless of their health at the time of donation and their sexual habits, according to a report published by El País.

Even countries with advanced views on the issue of gay rights, such as Germany, France, the Netherlands and Denmark, among others, bar gays from donating blood. The United States and Israel are also on the list.

On the other hand, Russia, a notoriously homophobic country with a law prohibiting "distribution of homosexual propaganda," does not impose restrictions on blood donation by gay men, and neither do Chile, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal or South Africa, according to El País' survey.

In 2004 the Brazilian National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) issued Resolution 153, which determined that men who have had sex with other men in the previous 12 months are not qualified to donate blood for one year.

However, in 2011 ANVISA issued Decree 1353, which determined that "sexual orientation should not be used as a criterion in the selection of blood donors."

The apparent contradiction between these two norms causes great confusion for blood collection sites and often becomes an obstacle for gay men who want to donate blood. Some end up lying about their sexual orientation to be able to donate.

The prohibition -- based on a mixture of fear, ignorance, prejudice and homophobia, as El País explains well -- came about in the late 1970s, when the AIDS epidemic appeared in the United States and there was more fear than scientific knowledge around the new disease.

For the first decades of the disease's spread, gay men were the main risk group. But over time the contagion dispersed, and currently both men and women of all ages, whether homosexual or heterosexual, are vulnerable to HIV, depending on their sexual habits and other practices, such as unprotected use of injectable drugs.

Furthermore, nearly every blood center in developed countries tests blood samples to detect HIV, a practice that makes the restriction (almost) pointless. Although Brazil has to do a great deal more to improve its public health services, it is known for the quality of its blood banks.

Since it is a fact that HIV can take up to two weeks to become detectable in the body, the analysis of samples does not offer a 100-percent guarantee that the blood is not infected.

But who's to say that a donor who declares himself or herself to be heterosexual cannot be in the latency period?

And how can one really know if a person is homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual?

Various scientific and medical institutions in the U.S., such as the Red Cross, suggest lifting the ban completely, since it is not based on the behavior of potential blood donors but on their sexual orientation.

Recently a European court ruled that this type of ban is a violation of human-rights legislation in the European Union. "The simple fact a man has or had sex with another man does not constitute sexual conduct that justifies his permanent exclusion from blood donation," the court said, according to El País.

In the article El País highlights an online campaign against the ban in Turkey.

Currently the FDA is considering the possibility of allowing gay men to donate blood provided that they have not had sex in the previous year. Several countries have already adopted similar standards, including Brazil, Canada, the United Kingdom, Uruguay and Sweden.

Does this mean that to donate blood, gays need to practice sexual abstinence, while heterosexuals do not? How does one ensure that any potential donor, whether gay or straight, is telling the truth?

In any case, these "grace periods" do not solve the root of the problem.

Why are gays banned from donating blood even if they are not HIV-positive and have safe, protected, judiciously considered sex?

Why are blood banks not prepared to ensure that all blood donated for transfusion be free from contamination, regardless of the donor's sexual orientation?

It's time to overcome past prejudices and change this shameful and anachronistic health policy.

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post Brazil and was translated into English.