Discrimination also exists in blood donation in Armenia

Although for the most part the Armenian Constitution and the legal codes do not contain homophobic language, some governmental documents do include outdated formulations as well as approaches.

An example of such document is Order 6 that was released in 2013 by the Minister of Health.

The order’s second appendix is titled “Restrictions for Donating Blood.” Point number 15 in the list states that in addition to the regular restrictions, there are special risk groups that are prohibited from donating blood, including “gays.”

LGBTnews’s correspondent sent an inquiry to Ministry of Health in order to find out why homosexuals are considered a risk group, why the term “gay” is used in the order, and how medical facilities are determining potential blood donor’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

We have received a response from Smbat Daghbashyan, who is the chief hematologist in the Ministry of Health as well as the Director of Hematology Center after Prof. R. Yolyan.

“Homosexuality does not pose a problem in donating blood, but homosexuals belong to a risk group due to the high prevalence of HIV among them in the world.

The European Court of Justice and a number of countries prohibit men who engage in sex with other men to donate blood. However, in many countries including Italy, Great Britain, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand, this restriction has been reviewed and modified.  A new method has been introduced based on individual risk assessment, according to which men who have sex with other men are allowed to donate blood, as long as the donation is done one year after the last sexual intercourse. In other words, there is a 12 month temporary restriction—a “window period.” There is no mention about women. For a long time FDA prohibited blood donation from homosexual and transgender people, but from 2015 it also changed its regulation, following the example of the above mentioned countries, and implementing the individual risk assessment method—the 12 month deferral period.

Armenia operates under point number 15 of Order 6, which was implemented in 07.02.2013. According to the order, homosexuals (gays) are part of the risk group.

Following the international standards for blood services, the question of making possible changes in the guidelines for blood donation from homosexuals is also being currently discussed by the Armenian blood service. In the future it should focus on person’s sexual behavior, rather than their homosexuality,” stated the letter from the Ministry.

It is important to note that contrary to Ministry’s claim, the European Court of Justice does not “prohibit men who engage in sex with other men to donate blood;” the European Court of Justice made a decision with a completely different content, about which the reader can learn more here. Discrepancies are also present in the list of countries provided by the Ministry. For example, Italy’s current legislation doesn’t have a 12 month window period. It doesn’t discriminate against sexual practices, orientation, or gender identity. The restrictions are purely medical. No discrimination exists in the legislations of many other countries as well, including but not limited to Portugal, Poland, Spain, Russia, and Mexico.

Incidentally, according to the data provided by the National Center for AIDS Prevention of the Ministry of Health, only 2.8% of registered HIV cases have been transmitted through homosexual activity.

It is worth paying attention to the fact that the Ministry’s claim that “Homosexuality does not pose a problem in donating blood” is directly contradicted by the last paragraph of the same response, which states that changes are anticipated in the future, which will “focus on person’s sexual behavior, rather than their homosexuality.”

The question of how medical workers determine whether the potential donor has engaged in sex with the same gender, or what the donor’s sexual orientation or gender identity is in a homophobic society, where people usually hide such matters, remains unclear. It is also not clear when the Ministry of Health will make changes that are in accordance with “international standards for blood services,” or whether it consults with non-governmental organizations when “discussing making possible changes in the guidelines for blood donation from homosexuals.”