Thursday, June 21, 2012

Virus As Gun Is No Answer

The BBC has picked up on a remark made by the Northern Irish health minister, who said that the ban on blood donations should not just apply to gay people. It should also extend to people who have sex "with somebody in Africa or sex with prostitutes". According to Wikipedia, Poots is a creationist, which may mean that there's not much scope for him to think things through. But it's shocking that someone like that can hold a senior position in government.

It does sound as if Poots thinks that there is a threat from gay people, Africans and sex workers that makes it prudent to have a blanket ban on their donating blood. So how would someone end up with such a view? What has he been reading? Well, UNAIDS' publications might be enough. According to them, heterosexual sex is the dominant mode of HIV transmission in Africa.

Sometimes the institution gives a vague 80-90%, sometimes they just say the 'vast majority'. But most of those infected are either married or in a long term relationship, with the implication being that one or both partners must have been having sexual intercourse with someone other than their partner. After all, how else would there be such high rates of discordancy, which is where one partner is infected and the other is not?

UNAIDS say "paid sex is an important factor in HIV epidemics in Western, Central and East Africa. An estimated 32% of new HIV infections in Ghana, 14% in Kenya and 10% in Uganda are linked to sex work". But those figures include the sex workers, their clients and their clients' partners. And while HIV prevalence has been extraordinarily high among sex workers, especially early on in the epidemic, it's never been demonstrated that the dominant mode of transmission was heterosexual. At the time, HIV prevalence in the population as a whole was very low, so it's not clear who could have infected so many sex workers in a short space of time.

So Poots thinks that "people who engage in high-risk sexual behaviour in general should be excluded from giving blood", and going by UNAIDS' communications, Africans, women, gays and perhaps a few others fall into that group. It's shocking that such bigoted views are held by a person who has probably received some education. But perhaps it is less shocking than the fact that an institution with the sole brief of reducing HIV transmission produces publications that appear to support such bigotry.

[For more about non-sexual HIV transmission and mass male circumcision, see the Don't Get Stuck With HIV site.]



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