South Africa's blood donor service has banned blood from sexually active homosexual men due to a higher risk of HIV, it said on Thursday, provoking an angry response from gay activists.
"A man who has had sex with another man within the last five years, whether oral or anal sex, with or without a condom ... is not permitted to donate blood and must please not do so," Sapa news agency quoted the head of the South African National Blood Service, Dr. Robert Crookes, as saying.
South Africa has the world's highest number of HIV cases with more than 5 million people infected.
The South African Gay and Lesbian Rights Advocacy Group said blood donors should be screened according to whether they used a condom, not their sexuality, and threatened to take Crookes to court over his comments, which it blasted as discriminatory.
"I understand that the blood transfusion service needs some sort of social indicator to derive the safety of blood but the use of gay in a blanket way indicates this is not fair," Dawie Nel, spokesman for the group, told SABC radio.
Crookes said the blood service's position was based on international practice and research that showed sexually active gay men were more likely to be infected with HIV than their heterosexual counterparts, Sapa said.
Post-apartheid South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, which is the only one to enshrine equal rights for gays and lesbians.
South Africa's top court said in December it was unconstitutional to deny gay people the right to marry, putting it on track to become the first country in Africa to legalize same-sex marriages.
Small activist group, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance - from which leading activist groups have distanced themselves - planned to picket blood donor centers yesterday over the policy, SABC reported.
The National Blood Service and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance were not immediately available to comment.
Nel said the decision to ban gay men from giving blood was not new, but that the blood service had reiterated its position following renewed criticism from gay rights groups.