Monday, April 14, 2008

Thai Red Cross ends discrimination for gay donors

Friday Apr 11 15:12 AEST

The Red Cross of Thailand has said it would change its screening process for blood donors to address concerns from activists who said the system discriminated against gays.

The Red Cross requires donors to fill out a form to assess their risk of disease.

Gay-rights activists had complained that one question, which was meant to target people more likely to have diseases transmitted by sex and drugs, had effectively blocked all gay men from donating by only asking about same-sex relations.

We didn't mean to hurt anyone," said Soisaang Pikulsod, director of the Thai Red Cross National Blood Centre. "It was just to ensure the highest possible safety of our patients."

The Red Cross will rework the form to include more questions about all types of sexual behaviour, gay or heterosexual, that could increase the risk of diseases such as AIDS, she said.

Nathee Teerarojanapong, a gay activist who complained about the questioning, urged the Red Cross to focus on screening out anyone with risky sex and drug habits, instead of singling out gay men and women.

"Sometimes gays want to do good things too," he said.In Buddhist Thailand, donating blood is an important way of earning religious merit, which Thais believe will help them in their next life.

Soisaang said concerns about infected blood donations grew after the agency found HIV in blood from 500 donors in 2007.The Red Cross notified the donors of their infection, but only one third of them returned for further counselling, she said. Half of them said they were gay and half said they were bisexual, she added.

About 28 percent of gay men in Bangkok had HIV in 2005, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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