Today sees the launch of FreedomToDonate - a massively important campaign to review the discriminatory rules on blood donation in the UK. And I'm thrilled to put my support behind it, because the existing rules - which bar sexually active gay men, along with anyone who has ever injected drugs, or had sex for payment - are scientifically and socially outdated, deeply and unjustly stigmatising, and urgently need to change.
It's National Blood Week and this year the call for blood donors is more urgent than ever with the announcement that the number of donors has fallen by 40% over the last 10 years. With such a crisis in donation why is it that there remains a restriction on any man giving blood who has had sex with another man in the previous 12 months? This week sees many calling for an end to such restrictions as unnecessary and discriminatory - as well as counter-productive given the shortage of donors.
I was 25 years old when I stepped into the Glasgow Blood Donor centre to give blood for the first time. It had always been something I had thought about doing, but like most of the population I'd just never really got round to it. In Scotland, only 5% of us are active donors meaning National Blood Week is more important than ever.
Only four per cent of people in the UK actually donate, and NHS Blood and Transplant reported that over the summer stocks dipped significantly. That leaves a lot of the population depending on a relatively small number of donors. So how can we encourage more people to start giving a pint of the red stuff? My suggestion is gamification.
When AIDS became known in the early 1980's, there was huge uncertainty about how HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was transmitted. A sense of fear characterised the way the public responded to the disease. From the public health policies that were made in response to AIDS, the one that remains the best example of utter panic is the ban on gay men giving blood. The war-on-AIDS view is flawed because it stigmatises gay men, as wanton sex fiends, all given to dangerous sexual activities. It also supports the fallacy that the HIV virus may be contained simply by eliminating those who are considered to be the main carriers, from activities of a communal nature. It is this reasoning that leads policy makers to believe that maintaining a discriminatory gay blood ban, serves a useful public health purpose.