Allowing gay blood donation would save lives during COVID-19 crisis

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Australian LGBTIQ advocates want the federal government to ease restrictions on gay blood donation to boost our supply of safe blood during the coronavirus pandemic.

The United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week eased restrictions on gay male donors. It reduced the period male donors who have sex with men must abstain from sex from twelve months to three.

The FDA made the change due to “unprecedented challenges to the US blood supply” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Donor centers have experienced a dramatic reduction in donations due to the implementation of social distancing and the cancellation of blood drives,” it said.

The FDA said recent research showed the rules could “be modified without compromising the safety of the blood supply.”

In Australia, advocacy group just.equal called for the easing of similar restrictions on our own Australian Red Cross Lifeblood service.

The service currently also refuses blood from men who have had sex with men in the past 12 months, effectively banning them from donating.

just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome said experts have warned of looming shortages of donor blood due to the pandemic. Many regular donors are currently self-isolating or fearful of infection.

“We believe allowing blood donation from gay men whose sexual activity is safe would increase the supply of safe blood for those in need,” he said.

Gay blood donation policy should focus on safety of sexual activity

just.equal want the Australian Government to go further than the US by removing the existing deferral period altogether. They want to allow gay men whose sexual activity is safe to donate.

“The risk of passing on diseases like HIV through blood donation is created by unsafe sex, not gay sex,” Rodney Croome said.

“Preventative treatments like PrEP reduce the risk further.

“We should have a screening policy that focuses on safety of sexual activity rather than gender of sexual partner.”

Croome said there are thousands of gay Australian men “whose blood is safe and whose desire to help has never been greater.”

“Today we will write to the Red Cross Blood Service and the Federal Government asking them to lift the current gay blood ban in the name of saving lives,” he said.

“Let’s allow them to give the gift of life before it’s too late and the blood shortage bites.”

He said a higher level of testing of blood donated by gay men could help ease any lingering concerns.

“Because this would be a new policy, we would be happy for the Red Cross to apply extra clinical testing to blood donated by gay men to ensure there is no risk to recipients.

“At a time of crisis like this, we can’t allow old prejudices to get in the way of saving lives.”

Blood donor deferral period is under review

Australia banned homosexual men from donating blood following the HIV and AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

In 2014, the Therapeutic Goods Administration rejected a bid to halve the 12-month waiting period following a review.

However in November 2018, the Lifeblood service received a new expert-led review into the gay blood donation policy.

In an update on its website, the service explains they want the Therapeutic Goods Administration to reduce the sexual activity deferral period.

“We have made a submission to the TGA proposing the current deferral period for donating whole blood for men who have sex with men be reduced from the current 12 months to three months, since the last sexual contact,” the Lifeblood service states.

The Lifeblood service’s website also provides advice on eligibility to prospective donors who identify as lesbian, intersex, transgender or gender diverse.

The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) previously advised the Red Cross could safely reduce the deferral period due to advances in HIV testing.

Early HIV blood screening tests were able to detect HIV antibodies around 50 days after infection. But modern tests take as little as 10 days, according to the Kirby Institute.

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