health


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The current blood transfusion service tag line is give blood no excuses. Well it appears that I might just be able to avoid all the excuses at some point over 3,590 days from now, only if I resist the urge to have sex with someone with whom I have same sex attraction for 10 years. Even if I were to only have sex and only safe sex with one man who only has sex with me for that period it won’t be good enough for Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO).

That is not what I’ve fought for these last 10 years plus!

Indeed why is a women who has had sex with a man who has sex with men allowed to give blood after a 12 months period? Surely making such a 10 year ban on men is sexist on that measure for a start.

What about those of us who have a traceable blood test history going back 10 years or more? We may well have sex with a condom with other men, and we may well have the blood test results that show we are negative to any STI (including HIV) for that period yet we are not allowed to donate.

What about a couple who were civil partnered for 10 years, yes despite the worries of some Daily Mail readers and columnists not all of the civil partnerships from have been annulled from those early days? They have a commitment to each other as much as any heterosexual couple. Yet we are allowing straight people who sleep around (sometimes without protection look at the unwanted pregnancy figures) to give without any checks on their behaviour except if they have paid for sex.

SaBTO says there is a 5% risk of infection 5 years after having man on man sex, this is reduced to 2.5% after 10 years. Now can we come to some reason as to why there is a 2.5-5% chance of infection? Is that group a set that have been regularly tested? I doubt it. Is that a group that routinely practice safer sex (with men or women)? Again I doubt it. Are we sure that of that 2.5-5% who may well have had sex with women in the interim period that they picked up the infection from a man rather than one of their female partners? Now that is a poser.

As Jae Kay says, I don’t care what the advise is as long as it’s fair. How about “a gender neutral, sexuality neutral filtering process to replace discrimination with a sensible protection of the quality of the donated blood supply”? Will there be a “day when those who practice safe sex need not fear rejection when offering to donate blood”?

Can we look a bit deeper into the science? How come after a test outside “the window” from when I last had sex the doctors can assure me that I’m not going to be be infected yet the SaBTO think I have to wait 9 years and 9 months longer than that window period?

Why does the blood transfusion service deny men who have sex with other men (oral or anal, with or without using a condom) from having sex, yet doesn’t ask the same question about heterosexuals? Is it because of cause heterosexuals are allowed to have sex without a condom, because how else would we get more children? Is it too much to ask if they had sex with someone other than their long term partner without a condom in the past 12 months for example? Is it too much to pass safety of donation on practise, that it is easier to ban any man who has sex with another man (same provisions as before) for up to 10 years? Are they trying to turn all gay men who’d like to give blood celibate?

The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service Website says:

The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) is required, under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, as a public authority, to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in carrying out its functions between:

  • persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation;
  • men and women generally;
  • persons with a disability and persons without;
  • persons with dependants and persons without.

Moreover, the NIBTS is also required, in carrying out its functions to have due regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group.
NIBTS is fully committed to embracing its equality obligations.

Or course elsewhere it says:

Infection is screened for by antibody tests and as it takes the body some time (days to weeks depending on the infection) to form antibodies, there will be a time period when the donor could have the infection but not yet have formed detectable antibodies. This is known as the ‘window period’. One way of reducing the window period is to test for direct viral material, called nucleic acid testing. This type of test is available for HIV and HCV. However, in very early HIV or Hepatitis C infection, this test may also be negative.

This is why the donor HealthCheck questionnaire includes important questions on lifestyle, as we cannot rely exclusively on laboratory testing for ensuring the safety of blood.

Of course that HealthCheck questionnaire is not asking equal questions about lifestyle for all the groups covered under section 75 of the Belfast Agreement, signed 13 years ago today. The equality of opportunity from men of a Gay or Bisexual orientation is not the same as everyone else. They are asked a question about sex whether safe or not it makes no difference and there is no similar question asked to men who don’t have sex with other men, the paying for sex question is generic, along with tattoos and other needle use (yet all these have a 1 year suspension period).

>Yeah it will come as shock to some people in Northern Ireland, but yes there are people living with HIV here in Northern Ireland.

You can’t tell who they are by looking at them.

You are not at risk from every day contact with them.

The HIV Support Centre in Belfast says that every week there are two people newly diagnosed with HIV. That is two more people who will be living with HIV in their bodies, two more sets of family and friends that will be living with someone they know very well having HIV.

Of course it is up to the individual in question as to whether s/he lets their family or friends know their status. There is still a stigma attached to HIV, which is almost as much of the ignorance from the 80s instead of what is known now about the disease. In fact it is possible to be in a full relationship with someone living with HIV and practice safer sex and to remain negative yourself*.

That stigma is something that is hard to overcome. It only will be broken down if more people living with HIV are courageous enough to let others know. Showing others that they can live a perfectly normal live.

My friend Michael is a trustee of The HIV Support Centre and he is adamant that the stigma of HIV is best lifted when people are aware that people living with HIV are all around them. Until recently this was even an issue with The HIV Support Centre itself, referring to itself merely as ‘The Centre’; the centre of what, one might ask. I recently witnessed him helping lift that stigma one person at a time.

He was talking to a friend he had known for some time, the conversation got round to HIV and his work as a trustee. Standing there listening I had an inkling where that conversation was going, especially once the friend seemed shocked that there people living with HIV in Northern Ireland, the friend was not someone you’d expect to be ignorant of such facts. Michael, eventually asked the question, “Do you know anyone living with HIV?”. The friend replied “No”. A hand was proffered with the words, “Hello, I’m Michael, I’m living with HIV.” It was a brave step even to a friend of some standing, and I’m glad to report he shook that hand and carried on asking more questions, over to the side I was fighting back the tear ducts**.

There is also the stigma of attending a GUM clinic. Some people think that everyone in there is carrying some STI if not HIV. But not every car that you see in a garage needs work doing, some are just being serviced and getting looked over ahead of an MOT, getting tested regularly is just like that. Far better to know what your status is, negative or otherwise at regular intervals that to find out too late that there is something wrong. Late diagnoses means that sometimes the medications may not be effective for the treatment of HIV.

Scarily 1 in 4 people living with HIV are as yet undiagnosed. Scarily of that set 39% are diagnosed so late that they need to start HIV treatment immediately, and 30% were diagnosed so late that there was a real risk of developing a potentially fatal illness. When there are apparently to 1 in 20 of the UK wide gay male population that are living with HIV that can lead to nightmares. Therefore the rule of thumb is treat every encounter the same, be safe and respect your own body. If someone refuses you because you want safer sex, don’t give in to peer pressure.

The message this year is ACT AWARE.

Are you aware of your HIV status?

If you’re not but are sleeping around whether with people of the same sex or the opposite, may I advise you to go and get tested now and regularly and be aware.

If you don’t believe how important that can be I’ll advise to wait until my next blog post.

* Of course there is no such thing as 100% safe sex, but if you love someone you decide for yourself what you want to do providing you are in full knowledge of the facts.

** Yeah I tend to well up quite a lot.

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I know that I parked this blog a couple of weeks ago, but there is something today that is too big, that is beyond politics that I felt compelled to draw your attention to. Today is World AIDS Day. Here are some of the UK statistics from their website.

More people than ever are living with HIV in the UK and each year new infections occur.

People living with HIV in the UK

  • The number of people living with HIV in the UK has trebled in the last 10 years
  • More than 90,000 people are living with HIV in the UK
  • Over a quarter of people with HIV in the UK are undiagnosed
  • About two thirds of people living with HIV are men and a third are women
  • Over half of all people living with HIV are aged between 30 and 44, but there are significant numbers both of young people and older people now living with HIV
  • One in 20 gay men in the UK is living with HIV

New HIV cases in 2008

  • 7,298 new diagnoses
  • The two groups most affected remain gay and bisexual men and black African heterosexuals.  Three-quarters of people diagnosed were among these two groups.
  • 2,760 new diagnoses among men who have sex with men
  • 2,790 new diagnoses among people from black and minority ethnic communities

This year they are running a campaign to be aware. Be aware of your HIV status. The harrowing fact that I highlighted above is that a quarter of people living with HIV are not aware that they are infected.

I have to admit there have been times that I have gone for my regular checks that I have been worried that I might have been at real risk of being infected. Indeed one of my recent tests I was anxious. I had experienced the primary HIV infection (or sero-conversion illness) symptoms, at about the right time scale when I could have been exposed. However, my tests did come back negative.

Knowing your status is important whether you are gay or straight especially if you are engaging in an active sex life with multiple partners, or if you are in an open relationship. Get into the habit of going regularly (every six months) to your local genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or with your local GP. The local GUM clinic for me now is up at the Royal Victoria Hospital, their staff there carried out my last test.

The message today is:

Be Aware
Be as Safe as you can be
Be Responsible for you own health

Footnote

The term living with HIV often only refers to those who actually have HIV. But a friend of mine recently said that those of use who know a family member, friend or partner who has HIV are also in a sense living with HIV. We deal with some of the effects it has on the person that we love. If we carry on living with their HIV we do not love them any less, we may show our love for them even more through the practical things we do for them and the support we give them to help them carry on as normal.

In that sense I am someone who is living with another friend’s HIV and I want them to know that I am thinking of them as ever today.

Well not if this comment from Dr Helen Evans on Nurse’s for Reform Website is anything to go by:

I had been invited by him to discuss NFR’s ideas on the future of health policy and presented a range of ideas. Amongst others, these included the end of national collective pay bargaining for nurses and doctors, the view that the state should not own or have any of its agents manage hospitals, a world of widespread health advertising (to overcome problems of patient ignorance through trusted brands) and a dramatic liberalisation of hospital planning laws. On this latter point, central government should have no say in when and where any hospital is opened or closed.

If he becomes Prime Minister I have no doubt NFR will meet with him and his policy team again.

So who are Nurses for Reform? Their website says:

“In Britain, NFR believes that the government should re-cast the NHS as simply a funder of last resort alongside an insurance and self-funder based market. It believes that the state should set free – through a range of full blown for and not-for-profit privatisations – all NHS hospitals and healthcare provision.”

These are the people that Dave has been meeting with and by the comment above appears to want to meet with them again along with hus policy team if he becomes Prime Minister.

Should we believe that the aims of Nurses for Reform are in line with Dave’s caring conservatism. His support of the NHS ‘brick and mortar’. Well he has announced plans to offer free personal care to the elderly, but only if they stump up £8,000 upon retirement. It sounds like that is just the first step.

We can’t go on like this. Dave shouldn’t be allowed to set hands on the NHS.

Hat tip to Tom Harris.

>Well not if this comment from Dr Helen Evans on Nurse’s for Reform Website is anything to go by:

I had been invited by him to discuss NFR’s ideas on the future of health policy and presented a range of ideas. Amongst others, these included the end of national collective pay bargaining for nurses and doctors, the view that the state should not own or have any of its agents manage hospitals, a world of widespread health advertising (to overcome problems of patient ignorance through trusted brands) and a dramatic liberalisation of hospital planning laws. On this latter point, central government should have no say in when and where any hospital is opened or closed.

If he becomes Prime Minister I have no doubt NFR will meet with him and his policy team again.

So who are Nurses for Reform? Their website says:

“In Britain, NFR believes that the government should re-cast the NHS as simply a funder of last resort alongside an insurance and self-funder based market. It believes that the state should set free – through a range of full blown for and not-for-profit privatisations – all NHS hospitals and healthcare provision.”

These are the people that Dave has been meeting with and by the comment above appears to want to meet with them again along with hus policy team if he becomes Prime Minister.

Should we believe that the aims of Nurses for Reform are in line with Dave’s caring conservatism. His support of the NHS ‘brick and mortar’. Well he has announced plans to offer free personal care to the elderly, but only if they stump up £8,000 upon retirement. It sounds like that is just the first step.

We can’t go on like this. Dave shouldn’t be allowed to set hands on the NHS.

Hat tip to Tom Harris.


A continuing series of spelling out Conservative plans part 8.

Yesterday with great fanfare the Conservatives launched chapter one of their manifesto with their health plans. They even put this on their website. I know I looked at them pretty soon after they came out and posted about them.

What I pointed out was a lack of specifics, things which had previously been talked about and published indeed in a draft version of their plans. These were not present yesterday and it appears that the Tories really are forming policy on the hoof.

Indeed several proposals had disappeared completely as well as the commitment to the others being blatantly non-expansive.

So it wasn’t just shallow, it was even shallow by Tory own standards in the last few months. What was left was vague promises and platitudes.

If this is the best that the Conservative party can give us after they themselves have kick started their election campaign into full swing they clearly need more time to prepare for Government. Maybe the Lib Dems who have been talking from the same page for years are the most prepared to take the country forward. After all our proposals are coming from principle and not from what we expect the voters to hear.

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A continuing series of spelling out Conservative plans part 8.

Yesterday with great fanfare the Conservatives launched chapter one of their manifesto with their health plans. They even put this on their website. I know I looked at them pretty soon after they came out and posted about them.

What I pointed out was a lack of specifics, things which had previously been talked about and published indeed in a draft version of their plans. These were not present yesterday and it appears that the Tories really are forming policy on the hoof.

Indeed several proposals had disappeared completely as well as the commitment to the others being blatantly non-expansive.

So it wasn’t just shallow, it was even shallow by Tory own standards in the last few months. What was left was vague promises and platitudes.

If this is the best that the Conservative party can give us after they themselves have kick started their election campaign into full swing they clearly need more time to prepare for Government. Maybe the Lib Dems who have been talking from the same page for years are the most prepared to take the country forward. After all our proposals are coming from principle and not from what we expect the voters to hear.

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