Joseph Heskin, a gay British doctor specializing in sexual health and HIV care, is a survivor of COVID-19. After discovering he had antibodies for the novel coronavirus, he tried to donate his blood plasma but was stymied by the U.K.'s current blood ban against sexually active gay and bisexual men.
Heskin recently spoke out about the experience, telling the BBC he was "humiliated" and reminded of the shame he felt growing up gay.
“It was quite strange because I knew that the answer I was given was coming, because I’ve spoken to other people who have been through the same process," Heskin told BBC, as reported by PinkNews. "So I actually expected that answer and yet still it took me by surprise how upsetting it was.”
Britain's health department bans men who have had anal or oral sex with another man in the past three months from donating blood. The ban, like the U.S.'s, does not take into account whether the male donor is in a monogamous relationship; it also bans all men on PrEP and PEP from donating blood unless they go off the HIV preventatives.
Heskin calls the restrictions on man who have sex with men arbitrary and hints they're based in bias.
“What we’re saying is that the blood transfusion criteria are not accounting for heterosexual individuals who may have multiple sexual partners, may not be using any form of barrier contraception or additional protection – and yet there’s no barrier to them donating,” he told the BBC. “But there’s currently barriers to gay and bisexual men donating who may be of no risk whatsoever."
Rather than blanket bans, Heskin is calling for individual risk assessments. The British government is actually studying whether it could transition from all-encompassing bans to one based on an individual donor's experiences, according to PinkNews.
But currently, what's in place is not working, says Heskin. “When you realise that within your own professional environment, within the organisation that employs you, there are criteria that deem you [and] your blood an unacceptable risk to the public — even though I know as myself but also as a clinician, as a HIV physician, that that just isn’t true — to be made to feel dirty or unclean, it brings all the [shame] rushing back again,” he told the BBC.