The Ministry of Health (MoH) has denied allegations that it is refusing to accept blood donations from gays and lesbians. MoH spokesperson Doreen Motshegwa this week denied the allegations, saying there is no way they could refuse to accept blood donations when the country is reeling from dire shortage of blood.
“It is not true that the national blood donation centre is refusing to accept blood from members of the gay and lesbian community. Botswana is currently grappling with shortage of blood to an extent that we lose patients who could have otherwise been saved by blood transfusions,” she said.
She added that the MoH was dismally failing to meet the annual blood collection target of 40 000 units, which explains why they have up-scaled campaigns to encourage the public to donate blood. Motshegwa’s denials come in the wake of a furore sparked by allegations that the national blood donation centre was barring members of the gay and lesbian community from donating blood. Both female and male same-sex sexual acts arecriminalized in Botswana.
The coordinator of lesbians, gays and bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO), Cain Youngman, toldSunday Standard in an interview that the national blood donation centre is refusing to accept blood from members of the gay and lesbian community. Youngman said one of their members had visited the national blood donation centre to donate blood, but was turned down and chased out of the office on the basis of her sexual orientation. “One of our members was told by the national blood donation centre that they do not accept blood from gays and lesbians. As we speak, we are consulting with the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) to map the way forward,” said Youngman.
He said the reasons advanced by officers at the national blood donation centre were not convincing and had to be challenged. “It’s very sad that we are now barred from donating blood. What I know is that they should refuse to accept one’s blood if there are chances that he or she could pose health risk to others. But now our government has gone further to bar us from donating blood on the basis of our sexual orientation,” he said. According to Youngman, this kind of treatment derails attempts by marginalised groups to access health services. Explaining the procedure followed when donating blood, Motshegwa said donors first have to fill in the donor registration form, which has a host of questions on weight and risk exposure, all of which are meant for screening and assessment purposes.
“After filling in the registration form, the prospective donor is pre-counselled. They then go for the haemoglobin check. If they pass they proceed to the donation stage. After donation, the blood is then screened for health conditions,” she said.
The alleged refusal by the Botswana national blood donation centre comes at a time when the South African national blood service (SANBS) recently reviewed its decision to ban gay men from donating blood, after protests from a number of gay rights groups in the country. A fortnight ago, the SANBS published their decision which said: “A man who has had sex with another man within the last five years, whether oral or anal sex, with or without a condom or other form of protection is not permitted to donate blood and must please not do so.”