The South African National Blood Service is attracting some criticism for deferring blood donations from men who have sex with men. But it’s either empirically true that these blood donations carry increased risk of HIV and other infection, or it’s false. Characterising this as a moral issue obscures the importance of treating public health and policy issues according to the data, not our feelings.
Policy interventions need to be premised on non-arbitrary premises, which is part of the explanation for our reluctance to allow subjective moral standpoints or populist vote-seeking to influence what leaders like Helen Zille propose. But where the data do suggest that a certain course of action is justified, are we able to accept that we (as individuals) should be treated as anonymous data points in an aggregated dataset?
Helen Zille’s ‘Get Tested’ campaign has been accused of being another populist device and also of being somewhat illiberal. But it’s difficult to see whose choices are impinged on by this sort of intervention, and we should instead support this relatively inexpensive attempt to increase the number of people who are aware of their HIV status.
Helen Zille’s desire to criminalise HIV, and require mandatory HIV testing is an understandable reaction to a national crisis. But the required policies would not only be illiberal, but probably also ineffective.
Patrick Holford is touring South Africa, offering his “Feel Good Factor seminar”. Punctuation is optional, as this seminar “will help you transform the way you think and feel right now and give you an action plan to prevent memory decline later in life and stay free from depression”.