The National Blood Centre said on Tuesday that it empathises with an appeal by the LGBT community regarding their right to donate blood but Thailand is not yet ready to relax the strict criteria for blood donors from this higher-risk group.
The centre, which operates under the Thai Red Cross Society, issued a statement after Nikorn Chimkong, who serves as chairman of both the HIV Foundation Asia and Bangkok Rainbow Organisation, urged the society to broaden its scope to be more inclusive of these oft-marginalised groups, especially at a time when donated blood is in short supply.
"The Thai Red Cross Society is committed to its mission and resolution to take care of people with compassion in line with the fundamental principles of the International Red Cross Movement. We respect the human rights of every person equally and without discrimination," the statement said.
During the transitional period of blood donation criteria for men who have sex with men (MSM) in many countries over the last decade, the National Blood Centre has been monitoring the advance of medical science in order to initiate improvements at home.
In Thailand, the HIV rate among first-time donors stands at 130 per 100,000, compared to 40 among the same number of regular donors.
These numbers are, respectively, 14 and 27 times higher than the US, 22 and 72 times higher than in Western Europe, and 10 and 80 times higher than Singapore, Taiwan, Macau, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan. In Bangkok, the HIV rate among gay men is over 30%.
"These statistics are key factors that must be analysed before any changes are made to our blood donor selection criteria," the statement read.
It added that an advisory group comprising specialists and experts in transfusion medicine decided Thailand is not ready to take the risk of relaxing the criteria for MSM blood donors.
It described this as a practical move rather than one rooted in discrimination, as transgender women who have no history of sexual intercourse with a male partner can apply to be donors, as can lesbians.
Before the criteria for gay men and others in this group can be relaxed, the HIV infection rate among donors must drop to below one in 100,000 donors per year, it said, adding this would require better sex education and cooperation from all sectors in society.