Donating blood is one of the greatest things you can do to help people in Ireland in my opinion. I have been donating since 2016. It’s incredibly important to me for many reasons. One reason is that I have multiple friends and family members who can’t donate, due to medical circumstances. Another is that your single donation can help up to three others. It feels incredible to receive a text a few days after your donation to hear that your blood has been used to help someone in need.
Why donating blood is so important
Without blood donors, services like emergency transfusions in A&E and chemotherapy would be stopped in their tracks. During our lifetime, one-in-four of us will require a transfusion. Blood donations also serve as an important way for people to have their blood tested for HIV, Hepatitis B, C, E, and syphilis, though it does not replace a proper STI screen, particularly if you have symptoms.
Restrictions for men who have sex with men (MSM)
As a regular donor, I am appalled by Dublin City University’s Student Union’s (DCUSU) decision to not work with the Irish Blood Transfusion Service as a method of protest. They are protesting the current guidelines around men who have sex with men (MSM). MSM are unable to donate blood unless they have abstained from sex for one year. In the UK and Canada, this restriction is lower, at three months. I think the guidelines around MSM donating blood are informed by a stigma originating from the rise of HIV and Hepatitis in the 70s and 80s. We have come a long way from this in terms of a progressive society. However, this is one aspect of Irish society that has failed to catch up with the times.
I understand, and support, the position of DCUSU in wishing to “lobby for the abolition of the MSM Blood Ban.” I firmly believe this is an extremely old-fashioned restriction that has little basis in modern medicine. In countries like Italy and Mexico, there are no time restrictions for sexually active MSM. Blood donations in Ireland are screened for HIV anyway, so why must we be concerned with MSM donations? I am embarrassed that we have these restrictions in Ireland in 2020.
Blood drives in colleges
Unfortunately, I feel as though DCUSU’s decision to “not liaise with the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) on organising blood drives” will significantly harm donor numbers. It will reduce the numbers of new and passive (people who haven’t donated in a while) donors becoming aware of blood drives and overall reduce accessibility to blood donors. In NUI Galway, regular blood drives were held on campus. You could easily attend between lecture breaks, you didn’t have to travel elsewhere and you could get a friend to tag along for support or even to donate alongside you. Seeing posters around campus and having a reminder in the weekly university email greatly helped to increase attendance. It was one of the easiest ways to get students in quickly and to donate. We can never have too much blood in supply.
Keeping donor numbers up
This is also the approach of the IBTS, as operations director Paul McKinney pointed out in January. “A combination of a successful marketing campaign – Everyone Counts – and the hard work of all our staff was key in ensuring that blood and platelets were collected, processed, and distributed quickly and efficiently.” This is incredibly important to keep donor numbers up as only 3% of Irish people donate blood, caring for almost 5 million people. Around 30 donors may be required for a car crash victim. You can see how very quickly blood may begin to run out.
I fully support the intentions of DCUSU. Sympathy boycotts are an important way of challenging the establishment, organisations, and more. But this boycott will not only hurt the number of donations given to the IBTS, but it also has the potential to hurt people who are in need of life-saving blood. That is not a risk I think is worth taking and takes away from the good-natured intent of blood donations in the first place – to help people.