By Elin Halvorsen
There are people who would like to donate blood, but they are not allowed to. Danny Clausen-Holm from Norderstedt is one of them. He has registered with the DKMS as a stem cell donor and has an organ donation card. Helping is a matter of honor for him. However, since he is gay, he is not allowed to donate blood. In theory, gay men are allowed to donate, but then they must have refrained from having sex with a man for twelve months. Danny Clausen-Holm is annoyed that his organs are good enough, but his blood is not.
No more blood reserves
This fact annoys him especially now, because at the moment the shelves in the storeroom of the DRK Nord are empty. Every day around 500 blood products are needed in Schleswig-Holstein. The situation is so critical that you have to go to the emergency supplies, which are otherwise planned for disaster situations, according to the transfusion doctor Bettina Lizardo in Lütjensee (Stormarn district). Corona and the heat wave reduce the willingness to donate so drastically that the need for blood reserves is not even covered for half a day.
No blood donation despite a monogamous relationship
“This regulation is discriminatory,” says Danny Clausen-Holm. “I’ve been with my husband for 16 years, we live in a monogamous relationship. And I have a rare blood type that I would like to use to help other people.” According to the RKI, gay and bisexual men belong to the risk group of HIV carriers. Since 2017 they have only been allowed to donate blood in Germany. Before that, they were completely forbidden. The guidelines for this are regulated by the so-called Blood Working Group. Every two years it reviews and revises the guidelines for donating blood. However: only existing studies are checked. If there is no research into sexual risk behavior, nothing can be checked. It is also the task of the medical association to assess the state of the art in science, not to make political decisions, says President Henrik Herrmann.
Clausen-Holm: “What matters is individual risk behavior”
Danny Clausen-Holm sees it differently. He is the spokesman for the Schleswig-Holstein Lesbian and Gay Association and calls for an end to discrimination. He considers the twelve-month exclusion to be no longer appropriate. Danny Clausen-Holm feels stigmatized by the exclusion, because gay doesn’t mean HIV, he says. “What is actually relevant is the individual risk behavior, and that is certainly a bit more pronounced with singles than with a same-sex relationship. And if a heterosexual single can donate without problems, but a gay couple that has been for very, very many years is monogamous together, isn’t it, then that’s just incomprehensible. “
The questionnaire before the blood donation
Donors must fill out a questionnaire before taking any blood samples. A truthful answer is assumed. This cannot be checked, for anyone. Men are asked explicitly whether they have had sexual intercourse with a man and whether this has happened within the last twelve months. No questions are asked about the sexual practice, only orientation. Women are asked whether they have had sexual intercourse with a bisexual man in the past four months.
Why twelve months exclusion?
Danny Clausen-Holm complains that the exclusion of twelve months is set arbitrarily. “No blood donation will be safer or less likely to become infected with HIV during this period. The only thing that happens is that it continues to exclude us from donating,” he says. Nobody wants to be forced to spend a year in celibacy just to donate blood.
Every single blood unit is tested for various diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C before it is put into circulation. According to the RKI, a safe exclusion process for HIV antibodies can now be achieved within six weeks. Since blood reserves are processed and used after just 24 hours, tests are not carried out for antibodies, but for viral loads. That is why there is always a critical window of two weeks if a person has just become infected. And yet: The Robert Koch Institute estimates the risk of becoming infected with HIV when donating blood in Germany to be less than 1: 5 million.
RKI: Gays with the highest infection rate
The number of new HIV infections in men who have sex with men has declined sharply in recent years. Nevertheless, according to the RKI, they are still the group with the highest infection rate. Heterosexual people who frequently have changing sex partners also count as a risk group. An exact number is not defined; one contact is sufficient for gay men. According to the Schleswig-Holstein Medical Association, safer sex has not yet been included in the assessment of sexual risk behavior. According to the Aidshilfe in Kiel, condoms – after complete abstinence – are still the safest way to avoid HIV infection. “The same criteria that heterosexuals should also apply to homosexual couples,” says Danny Clausen-Holm. Marriage is also no guarantee of healthy blood.
Medical Association: Check the rules if necessary
The Schleswig-Holstein Medical Association also says that it might be worthwhile to look beyond the borders. “We as the Medical Association here in Schleswig-Holstein have also addressed this and believe – on the basis of scientific findings, of course – that one should definitely think about whether the twelve months are appropriate for monogamous homosexual men or women,” says Chamber President Hermann. “I think it’s absolutely right if we dare to look at other European countries and also at the USA and Canada to see how they deal with it.”
Inconsistent regulations in Europe and internationally
In Denmark, gay men are allowed to donate after four months if they are in a committed relationship, even without a time limit. In Bulgaria, Italy and Portugal, each person is asked individually about their sexual risk behavior, regardless of sexual orientation. The UK and Canada have reduced the time to three months. According to the President of the Medical Association Henrik Herrmann, the guidelines for blood donation will next be revised in 2021. Danny Clausen-Holm is curious to see if he can save lives with his blood.