Olivier Namet was walking past his university campus at Kings College, London when he was approached and asked to donate blood. He said he couldn’t because he was gay.
I said, “I can’t donate blood so I can’t do this”. But the volunteers from the Anthony Nolan Stem Cell register told me it didn’t matter at all, if you are a match everyone goes through the same testing. It surprised me so I said yes. It was great to be treated as an equal person.
‘It always frustrated me that I couldn’t donate blood. I was just like, ‘Oh wow, these people will let me help if I can’ I was pleased and felt elevated.’
Only two months after donating, Namet, 33, received a card from a man and the amazing message changed his life forever.
‘I received a card from my recipient about two or three months after I donated. He’s an adult male, living in America. I guess it doesn’t really matter who he is, or if we meet – even if we met, we might not even get along. It’s just that this crazy thing has happened. I guess it would be interesting to meet them if anything.’
I don’t think I can ever really fully understand that I’ve saved someone’s life. To have the ability to save someone’s life without really doing anything is amazing. It takes such a little effort to save someone’s life.’
At the moment, men have to wait 3 months after anal sex before giving blood. Previously, the wait had been an entire year. Some still see the rule as discrimination, however, considering the fact that heterosexual couples often have anal sex and the HIV risk factors are much lower since the advent of PrEP and PEP.
In the coming days, a campaign by the Anthony Nolan Stem Cell Register will seek to highlight and celebrate the diversity of London, and there will also be a particular focus on recruiting people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
People from BAME backgrounds are currently underrepresented on the stem cell register, meaning that it’s more difficult for patients from these backgrounds to find a donor with a matching tissue type.
Currently, only 60% of transplant recipients receive the best match, and this drops dramatically to around 20.5% (one in five of transplant recipients) if you’re from a Black, Asian or ethnic minority background.
‘I definitely think there is a feeling that gay and bisexual men cannot donate their stem cells because we cannot donate blood.’ said Namet.
‘Joining almost felt like an act of spite – I’m helping now even if you didn’t want me to before!’
Charlotte Cunliffe, Marrow Programme Lead at Anthony Nolan said: ‘It is so important to address inequality on the stem cell register so that we are able to find a match for every person in need of a transplant. London is one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in the world, and provides the perfect opportunity to register a large number of potential donors, from a mix of backgrounds, heritages and communities.
‘Next week, we hope to see hundreds of people sign up to become ‘Londonors’, ready to give a second chance to someone in desperate need’
Anyone aged 16-30 and in relatively good health can join the Anthony Nolan register. To find out more about Anthony Nolan and the Londonors campaign, visit at www.anthonynolan.org/londonors