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The transmission of HIV is a major challenge facing most countries across the globe. The wide spread of this disease has resulted in the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs to publish a report on the selection criteria of blood, cell, and tissues (SaBTO, 2017). In the UK, the government aims at reducing the causes of HIV transmission which occurs by blood donation. This paper seeks to discuss measures currently in place in the UK to prevent the transmission of HIV by blood donation.
Measures Adopted in UK
Blood Services are in charge of both blood donation and transfusion across the UK. This organization has four branches, each responsible to its own Department of Health. These blood services include NHS Blood and Transplant which is in charge of North Wales and England, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, Welsh Blood Service, and the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service. However, despite being in charge of different geographical locations, UK blood donation measures enforced by European legal requirements are observed by all the four departments.
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First, the European legal requirement has provided current guidelines which are based on the precautionary principle. For instance, individuals with a ‘present and clear danger’ are prohibited from giving their blood, such as people currently taking or having taken antibiotics recently, as well as those with infections. Besides, certain rules are put in place to prevent people from donating blood due to the high chances of transmitting to the recipient blood-borne pathogens such as human immunodeficiency (HIV) viruses. The most prominent groups affected by this issue are men who engage in sexual intercourse with fellow men (MSM) and individuals tattooed recently within a particular duration. Nonetheless, some campaigners claim that these rules have become outdated. According to Coulter (2015), the 1980s’ AIDS epidemic is different from the current health and scientific climate.
The country has adopted these measures to prohibit the transmission of HIV viruses to transfused patients. According to the NHS, in England and Wales, about 1 in 6 500 000 patients is prone to contracting HIV from transfusion of blood. In HBV the risk of contracting HIV from the blood transfusion is 1 in 1 300 000. Nonetheless, since 2005, no incident of HIV transmission via through blood transfusion has been recorded due to a screening of all donated blood to ensure it is free from HIV (NHS Choices 2015). An extensive test is done on the willing blood donors and the World Health Organization (WHO) compiles the results. The Global Database on Blood Safety noticed a great difference between the cases of HIV infection from blood elements between low-income and high-income nations (WHO 2012). The high-income nations recorded a median prevalence of 0·001%, whereas low-income nations recorded a median prevalence of 0·5%.
Secondly, the UK has adopted the measure of testing the donated blood for HIV before it is transfused to patients. These blood tests are performed in laboratories with modern equipment to guarantee effective results. Therefore, his practice lowers the risk of contracting HIV via blood transfusion. Nonetheless, this measure of minimizing the HIV transmission rate via blood transfusion has not been effective since in some cases the results obtained have errors. According to Fare (2015), blood screening laboratory tests are not infallible. This is the case since the period to reliably diagnose HIV in the donated blood has been prolonged. According to Taylor et al (2015), HIV tests conducted on third and fourth generations have approximately 0·01% error rate. Besides, De Buck et al. (2015) conducted a review to examine the connection between the rate of HIV transmission, male blood donators, and MSM. Despite lack of enough evidence, De Buck et al acknowledge there is a relationship between high-level HIV transmission in the UK and MSM. Moreover, this connection dependent on time; donation within 12 months after the exposure increases the risk of contracting HIV (De Buck et al, 2015). Therefore, individuals involved in MSM should be allowed to donate their blood after 12 months with no sexual encounter (SaBTO, 2017).
Patient safety should be held in the highest regard. Therefore, despite the significance of donated blood in saving the lives of patients in a critical condition, high-risk individuals should not be allowed such as MSM should not be allowed to donate blood. Besides, the donated blood is screened through laboratory tests to ensure it is free from HIV. The study shows that certain groups of people have a higher risk of contracting HIV, particularly MSM. Also, although a great care has been observed when conducting blood tests in the laboratory, total safety cannot be guaranteed. Consequently, despite blood shortages in the UK’s blood banks, care is observed in the blood donation process. The guidelines enforced by the NHS should be adhered to during blood donation and transfusion. The health practitioners, therefore, should take the responsibility of explaining to the groups excluded from donating blood. In case this is not done, the excluded individuals might feel discriminated and unfairly isolated from the general public. These individuals particular MSM should be made to understand the risk that is likely to arise if they are allowed to donate blood.
- Coulter, P., 2015. Gay blood donation: ‘no evidence’ to support outright ban, retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-31131316
- De Buck, E., Dieltjens, T., Compernolle, V. & Vandekerckhove, P., 2015. Is having sex with other men a risk factor for transfusion-transmissible infections in male blood donors in western countries? A systematic review PLoS ONE, 10, e0122523.
- Fares, A., 2015. Seasonality of hepatitis: a review update. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, 4, 96.
- NHS Choices., 2015. Blood transfusion – risks, retrieved from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/blood-transfusion/Pages/risks.aspx
- SaBTO. 2017. Donor Selection Criteria Report (2017). Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/635174/SaBTO_donor_selection_criteria_report.pdf
- WHO World Health Organization, 2012. Summary report 2011. Global database on blood safety.
- World Health Organization, retrieved from http://www.who.int/bloodsafety/global_database/GDBS_Summary_Report_2011.pdf?ua=1.