ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has said he will call for federal Labor to change the party’s platform on restrictions preventing gay men to donate blood at the party’s national Labor conference this weekend.
Australia has a 12-month deferral period on donating blood for men who have sex with another man in the last 12 months, a measure to reduce the risk of HIV transmission but effectively banning gay men from donating blood.
Experts say because of scientific advancements in HIV testing that period can be safely reduced, allowing gay donors to assist the Red Cross Blood Service meet supply shortages.
Andrew Barr told the Sydney Morning Herald he wants Labor’s party platform amended to say, “The current 12-month deferral period for men who have sex with men is excessive and beyond what is required to maintain a safe blood supply.
“Labor will seek to reduce or eliminate the deferral period for men who have sex with men. This will increase blood supply and reduce inequality and social harm caused by this discriminatory policy.”
The ACT leader is calling for the change after a similar motion was passed in the Territory’s parliament.
“Earlier this year the ACT Legislative Assembly passed a motion indicating its support for an evidence-based approach to deferral rules which also work to reduce stigma against gay men,” Barr said.
“The ACT government has also previously flagged this issue at COAG health council meetings and through the Australian Red Cross Blood Service’s review of deferral rules.
“My representations at ALP National Conference are another step in ongoing advocacy on this important issue.”
Canberran and AIDS Action Council board member Wayne Herbert said he backed the chief minister’s plan and believed the exclusion period should be dropped to two to three months.
“There have been several occasions where I have sought to donate blood and I have been shocked that such an exclusion existed, particularly given the research and advances in testing,” he said.
The Australian Red Cross Blood Service explains on its website, “Scientific modelling shows that overall, even men in a declared exclusive gay relationship have, on average, a 50 times greater risk of HIV infection, compared to heterosexual Australians with a new sexual partner.
“The Blood Service is not discriminating against anyone based on their sexuality; rather the policies are based on assessment of risk.
“Deferrals are in place for a number of potential donors who may be more likely to be exposed to infection or present other risks to the recipient.”
The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) said in October scientific advancements mean that 12-month period is “unreasonable” and can be reduced.
“Australia doesn’t want to change its really high rate of success in terms of blood supply safety, but it still needs to be responsive to the scientific evidence we have,” AFAO President Bridget Haire said.
“The fact is 12 months is just way too long. It’s unreasonable and unnecessary, and it’s deeply unfair, the science tells us that.
“We have really good testing of blood being done now. Blood is tested for all of the relevant viruses, both the presence of the [HIV] virus as well as the presence of antibodies.
“Even if you look at the [HIV test] that takes the longest period of time to conduct, it’s one month. If you double it as a kind of buffer for peace of mind, that’s two months.
“The question is, why aren’t we lowering the 12-month exclusion to two months? That is very reasonable. It is safe and perfectly scientifically relevant.”
(Top left photo via Facebook)