NEW DELHI: The Centre has opposed before the Supreme Court a plea for a change in the guidelines that prohibited transgender persons, men having sex with men (MSM) and female sex workers from donating blood.
Maintaining that it is imperative that donors and recipients of blood donation have complete faith that the collected sample is safe and clinically effective, the government said the exclusion of transgender persons, MSM and female sex workers as blood donors were based on scientific evidence which is globally recognised and accepted by subject experts in India.
In an affidavit, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said the blood transfusion system (BTS) in the country relied on blood donation and the guidelines have been put in place on account of the existing reality with regard to the quality of health system that varied throughout the country.
“It is important that every effort be made to strengthen the integrity of India’s BTS so as to instil confidence in people who have little option but to use the BTS in what may perhaps be the most difficult situation in their lives,” it said.
The government's response came in a PIL filed Manipur-based, Thangjam Santa Singh. The top court had on March 5, 2021 issued notice to the Centre in the matter.
The plea questioned validity of the Guidelines for Blood Donor Selection and Blood Donor Referral 2017 as it prohibited transgender persons, and men having sex with men and female sex workers from being donor. It contended that guidelines, which considered them as high-risk category for being HIV and AIDS infected, were violative of fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution in view of being discriminatory on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
In reply, the government said it was imperative that both donor and recipient at opposite end have complete faith that the blood available in blood banks was not only safe but also clinically effective and of appropriate and consistent quality.
"Ensuring the safety and availability of blood was a major public health responsibility," the government said, adding the situation in developed countries was different as they deployed nucleic acid testing (NAT) which reduced the window period for transfusion-transmitted infections (TTIs).
In India, only a fraction of the 3,866 licensed blood banks deployed NAT technology, the government pointed out, saying the NAT technology was very expensive, required trained manpower and specialised equipment which demanded proper handling and regular maintenance.
The Ministry also pointed out, scientific evidence clearly showed that transgender persons, MSM and female sex workers are globally recognised as a population group with a higher prevalence of HIV and other TTIs, which has been the basis for subject experts, in the present case the NBTC, to prescribe the exclusions.
“A robust BTS is an essential feature of any country’s healthcare system without which quality medical care is impossible...In India, the quality of the healthcare system varies immensely across different geographies and one has to be mindful of this reality while framing guidelines for the entire country,” the Centre said.
In 2021, while seeking the government's response in the matter, the court had refused to stay the guidelines.