Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Health Protection Agency report backs up Edwin Poots

Fri 1 February 2013, 2:14pm

Last year there was some controversy over Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots refusing to lift the permanent ban on men who engage in gay sex from giving blood. Many wanted NI to come into line with the rest of the UK which insists the donor must not have had gay sex within the last 12 months.  Recent reports by the HSA & The Lancet reinforce the reasons why blood donor organisations worldwide all have similar high risk categories who cannot give blood.  The recently published report entitled `HIV in the United Kingdom: 2012 Report` states “the number of people living with diagnosed HIV has risen year on year, with an increase in number of new diagnoses among men who have sex with men (MSM) and people born in high prevalence countries”.

At the time the SDLP`s Conal McDevitt said Edwin Poots comments regarding blood donations from gay men were both repellent and unscientific: “The Minister’s comments perpetuate a tired mythology of cultural promiscuity in the gay community which troubles me as an advocate of a more accepting, shared society.  Yet the BBC reports today that “Scientists, writing in the Lancet Infectious Diseases say there has been a return of risky sexual practices” amongst gay and bisexual men.

Also at the time Sinn Fein`s Paul Maskey MP tweeted “Maybe Edwin should visit the Falls Park today and tell the many African people, their blood is no use here. Asylum and Refugee week.” And Fergus O’Hare ‏a former Sinn Fein councillor tweeted “Edwin Poots says anyone who has had sex in Africa should be banned from giving blood. That rules out most Africans I reckon. Sack the idiot!” yet the science backs up Blood Donor organisation rules and the Northern Ireland Health Minister`s stance.

Kieran McCarthy Alliance MLA said at the time: “We should be encouraging people to donate blood, not telling perfectly eligible people that they are banned from donating blood.” Yet it is quite clear nearly all Blood organisations around the world take this stance with people in high risk categories such as male gay sex, sex with prostitutes, sex in high risk countries like Africa & drug users.  The Australian Blood Service has an almost identical list of such high risk groups as listed in the UK.  The Canadian Blood Services currently have a total exclusion as well.

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Comments (24)

  1. 6crealist (profile) says:

    While we’re bringing up the past in every other Slugger thread today, it’s nice to see Poots mellowing in his old age:

    http://youtu.be/HN7mDna7y20?t=1m30s

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  2. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Many thanks, Kilsally. Some political quiz-master may like to ask what the similarity is between Conall McDevitt and John Gummer.

    Do CMcD’s words “tired mythology” represent a coded attack on the creationist community? Any such attack should trouble “an advocate of a more accepting, shared society.”

    Persons who surrender themselves to moral or credal bogeys are unable to believe that a minister might act on the basis of expert medical advice.

    Every so often the scientific world responds to factuality. It’s wonderful to see how many people have stopped talking about ‘junk’ DNA in recent months.

    Of course we have to be on guard against dictators, like the lunatics who want to impose a heavy tax on sugar. At times the job of a health minister can be a balancing-act.

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  3. Sp12 (profile) says:

    “While we’re bringing up the past in every other Slugger thread today, it’s nice to see Poots mellowing in his old age:”

    Can’t view youtube in work.
    Please say this is a link to the COME-ON-BIG-LAD!!!!!! incident.

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  4. 6crealist (profile) says:

    Sp12

    It’s “big fella”, actually ;)

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  5. I used to donate blood twice a year. I’m not allowed to any more because I take a lot of pills for a heart condition. Makes sense. Same as a precaution for the threat of AIDS. It is not a comment on people’s life style or sexuality, just reducing the chance of cross contamination of this awful disease.

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  6. Sp12 (profile) says:

    6crealist, classic clip.
    I love the way the DUP supporters in the audience then and now react the same way to the leader’s utterances. The standard response of clapping and shouting Yeooooo!! then was very much in evidence a few years back at the party meeting in the Europa when a reporter (Mallie I believe) got his answer on a question relating to the wicked witch of the North’s dalliances.

    A protestant friend who moved to America a few years ago would always offer that clip you posted as quintessential NI politics :)

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  7. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Has Mr McDevitt made any comment yet? We should have had a retraction by now.

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  8. gaygael (profile) says:

    so kislally – the lancet report and hpa report are for england and walse so not really relevant to poots homophobic decision
    so are essentially non-sequiters to your arguement.

    The minister is an outright homophobe – it is that simple.
    Northern ireland has the lowest rate of HIv infection in the uk and also the lowest prevalence rate amongst msm (men who have sex with men)
    If i am in a monogomous 30 year relationship with my male partner I am permanently barred
    my brother has sex with a different women each day and choses not to wear condoms – his blood is fine for donation and in pre donation screening, he will not be asked about his heterosexual activity

    The lifetime ban is hookum and outdated. note that we also import blood all the time from the rest of the uk. So our minister is happy to take blood donated from msm living in england scotland and wales but not from msm in northern ireland. He contradicts his own policy. or does he have a special method of sifting out the msm blood from the rest of the uk?

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  9. gaygael,

    I am right up there in condemning homophobia. I wasn’t aware that N.I. sources blood from the rest of the UK. If that is the case, then there can be no absolutely good reason why regulations for donating to be different. These are people trying to contribute to their fellow humans, unlike countries that pay for blood donations. Poots’ action doesn’t seem to pass the “smell test”.

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  10. gaygael (profile) says:

    mister joe
    the uk health ministers made their decisions after SABTO published its report in september 2011. Poots said he would not follow suit. He was challenged by lgbt rights organisations, and politicians and then said he had yet to make a decision.
    The change in rules took effect in the rest of the uk in Nov 2011.
    Freedom of information request in March 2012 shows that we got blood from other parts of the Uk in Nov, Dec, Jan and Feb!!
    Poots is still refusing to release any of the advice that he has been given including from Larkin (and with Larkins track record on these issues we can understand why)
    He is an unreconstructed homophobe, par for the course in the dup – they still now refuse to say that decriminilisation in 82 was a good thing.
    putting them further to the right of the BNP.
    Northern Irelands very own Nasty Party – so much for PRs much heralded move to the mainstream

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  11. Kilsally (profile) says:

    Gaygael & Mister Joe – blood from the rest of the UK doesn’t come from MSM sources since the rules state ban on donor if they have had gay sex in the last 12 months – you do have a point regarding promiscuity in heterosexuals but presumably scientists take all that into account when determining the high risk groups

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  12. Neil (profile) says:

    As opposed to the ban by Pootsy which doesn’t consider when the gay person last had sex, just that they be dirty, full stop. Would I be mistaken in saying that a gay virgin would be banned under Pootsy’s rules? He was minded to exclude straight people who sleep with hookers too (not the rugby playing type) but, um, no. Just gay people.

    It seems like the man had an excuse to implement a policy in keeping with his own religious beliefs – outlandish even in NI. But then he keeps good company, given his former party colleague, noted philanderess, advocate of ‘curing’ homosexuals through therapy who once said that homosexuality was ‘worse than paedophilia’ – Iris Robinson.

    What’s worse is that these statements, and arguments give cover to homophobic morons who attack innocent people regularly in NI. Their comments are abhorrent and should be challenged.

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  13. gaygael (profile) says:

    Freedoms of information request proves you wrong kislally. We do regularly get blood from others parts of the uk. And the last time I checked it was the period from nov 11, when the rules changed in england scotland and wales, through to feb 12, where we got blood. We got msm blood.

    I may be a msm who is single for a year and don’t have any sexual contact. My blood is good enough in the rest of the uk and to be imported to Northern Ireland. But I can’t donate it in Northern Ireland.

    Homophobic at best. Homophobic, self contradictory and ill suited for my ministerial position at worst. This minister is an embarrassment.

    Follow his form on any issues related to sexual orientation. Further to he right than the bnp. Shame.

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  14. pauluk (profile) says:

    You are missing the point, folks. The HPA and Lancet confirm Poots’ concerns and show that he is only trying to protect the general public. Homosexuals are an extremely high-risk group for HIV and all other STDs because of their lifestyle.

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  15. gaygael (profile) says:

    Pauluk – just wana say congrats on your very accurate prediction of the USA election, and romney’s routing of Obama.

    ‘Homosexual are a high risk group’ – you are an ill informed homophobe relying on bad stereotypes to construe your point. you cannot blanket a diverse group with sweeping statements, but im sure the reasoning of tha is beyond you. Like Poots you let your homophobia dictate your opinion on these matters.
    2 monogamous gay men in a 10 year relationship are zero risk if they know that they are HIV negative. ZERO RISK, yet they would be precluded by homophobia. It destroys your argument, to presume that all msm are a risk and belies your obvious homophobia.
    On the matter of Poots, he contradicts himself by taking blood from other parts of the uk wich includes msm blood. His policy is untenable and only held by the delay in taking this case to court.

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  16. Reader (profile) says:

    gaygael : On the matter of Poots, he contradicts himself by taking blood from other parts of the uk wich includes msm blood.
    I suspect you are right about Poot’s motivations, but the above isn’t evidence of anything. He could simply say he is doing the best he can to play the numbers game – protecting the blood supply so far as possible. Half the job of running health is to play the numbers game – managing risk. That’s why the HPA *exists*.

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  17. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Maybe Mr Poots will tell us whether he acted on his own, or on the basis of expert advice.

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  18. Kevsterino (profile) says:

    I think that when the issue is a grave matter of public safety, like AIDS/HIV, the political needs of the gay community simply don’t stack up to the need to protect the general public (including msm’s) from the peril of a horrible disease. Whether it suits the msm’s agenda or not, they do have a risk factor that is clearly distinguishable from msw’s (is that a new acronym now for those with a vaginal preference?).

    Poots has a responsibility to protect the public and chose to play the best odds he could to avoid a risk to the public. I think a gay man could justify himself making the same call, but Poots’ party’s previous record on homosexuals make him a handy target.

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  19. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Maybe now is a good time to reread Morton Thompson’s novel ‘The Cry and the Covenant’.

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  20. Joey (profile) says:

    Felt I had to share my understanding of the situation as it hadn’t been properly addressed or explained it seemed here.

    The report mentioned in the article does nothing to support Poots stance and personal attitude to the health issue of donations from men who’ve been chaste for a year and been deemed safe donors by other countries. The report addresses a completely different aspect.

    So, you donate blood. And they take it and run a bunch of tests to find out who it’ll benefit. The type, and factors and all that, and they also run it through an extensive screening process. Looking for nasties; more specifically the evidence your body has been fighting the nasties, by looking for antibodies you may have produced to try(hopefully successfully) to fight them off.
    Now there’s a window period where it may present; you don’t produce a huge amount straight away. It’s why if you’ve ever been to the Royals GUM clinic they ask you loads of simple questions about time since you last had a Very Good Time. It takes time for things to be detectable by the normal laboratory tests. Sure you could stump up loads of time effort and cash for Star Trek style machines and tests to find these things on day 1 but you want to use the normal procedures to keep costs reasonable for a, hopefully endless, countless!, numbers and hides who want to get tested, or say, donate blood.

    So the screening comes back, as a sort of snapshot of what your body had, or hadn’t, caught for about 2 weeks prior.
    Once it passes and it doesn’t show anything, then we’re almost 100% sure. So we use it. (Or to finish the GUM example I abandoned a paragraph back, you’re lucky, and should be careful next time :-P in adventures straight, or gay )

    The one year ban on gay guys donating is this window period taken to its extreme, for safety. It can take up to 3 months for your blood to begin presenting enough antibodies for detection of HIV (or never for things like CJD…. )

    So what window period would you set? 3 months? Too close to the latency period. 6 ,months? Statistics and confidence of a negative result is large but you never know (paraphrasing the scientists and statistical language a bit)
    A year? Well by then confidence in a negative result is so high as to be just about 100% unless we don’t understand hiv’s development in people. Thatd be nonsense given the research we’ve done over these decades … No. It’s not a question like do you have undiagnosed CJD lurkin in your system (twisted proteins that we can’t detect on a reliable mass screening scale, hence the outright ban in some countries for our British and Irish blood.)
    No. It’s a virus. Which we produce antibodies to. Which lead white blood cells to it. And is ultimately how we die from it. Cos it tricks our system; welcomes this oncoming storm with open arms to feed off and turn on us. It’s scary. Clever. And not a threat if after a year of abstinence someone tests negative.

    Anyway. This is about Poots and a study about increasing risk taking behaviour in gay men. By now I hope it’s understandable why this is a completely separate issue to blood bans on gays. Following the one year chastity the man will donate blood and it’ll be screened and if there’s HIV antibodies then, well shit. :-(
    If there’s not? He’s been a good boy/lucky and now someone can benefit from his donation.

    Poots ignoring the science is ridiculous and confusing until we learn of his religious ideals that won’t be out of place in some parts of Republican America, say.
    Also his attitudes, and indeed most Northern Irish politician’s attitudes, to women’s rights over abortion are depressingly united in their stances. Stances out of line with the rest of the UK. Gays and women. These peoples’ choices and options limited by a theocratic fool who won’t listen (or even maybe read?) to science that’s had the right effect across the Irish sea.

    Just wanted to help explain why this article does not support Plots. It makes me angry at the men, or indeed anyone, in this day and age taking the risks so casually, or indeed relishing it. That’s a discussion for another time, and place, but again, has nothing to do with Poots’(or heck whoever is behind resistance to bringing us in line with the rest of the UK) ignorance of science and facts.

    J

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  21. Joey (profile) says:

    For my final trick I’ll try to explain where the feelings of discrimination come from.
    It’s the evening before you head down to donate blood. You and your girlfriend you met through eHarmony/ work/ friends/ holiday/ dim smoky nightclub are in watching a movie. You’ve been together 2 years, and tonight you get a twinkle in your eye and before you know it have your wicked way with each other.
    Next morning you rock up with a spring in your step. You gleefully tell the nurse you’re in a monogamous relationship so it’s fine with all that unprotected sex you’re reveling in. She rolls up your sleeve and away you go helping to save lives.
    Now we’re in an alternate universe. You’re gay. You’re at home with the other half you jet through grindr/ work/ friends/ holiday/ dim smoky nightclub. It’s a Gerard Butler movie and tonight you get a twinkle in your eye and before you know it have your wicked way with each other.
    Next morning you rock up with a spring in your step. You gleefully tell the nurse you’re in a monogamous relationship so it’s fine with all that unprotected sex you’re reveling in. She tells you sorry, you now have to leave and return in a year after not enjoying the physical side to your relationship. You don’t save lives.

    If someone fails to find that in any way unfair then the discussion over this really can never progress further with that person; at the very least it highlights in that person (eg Poots) a cold disregard, possibly borne out of a willful disregard for science and common sense inspired by the latent homophobia of their personal beliefs.

    Personally its an unfair treatment of your fellow altruistic man ignoring the reasons and rules for keeping blood donated to make modern medical interventions possible and safe.

    J

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  22. Joey (profile) says:

    Last paragraph should read:

    Personally its an unfair treatment of your fellow altruistic man ignoring the reasons and rules for keeping the blood donated clean and safe enough to make modern medical surgical interventions possible.

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  23. Framer (profile) says:

    Judicial review is under way on the matter testing whether discrimination is legitimate with Attorney General Larkin leading.
    Poots may be able to bring on board some science to at least create confusion but unquestionably his motive is discriminatory.

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  24. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Let’s be careful. Any science that creates confusion isn’t science.

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