As Covid causes blood shortages, Australia should let gay men safely donate

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Australian gay men who can safely donate blood should be allowed to in order to address a shortage of donors due to Covid-19, an LGBTIQ group has said.

This summer Australia’s Red Cross Lifeblood Service have appealed for 3,200 more blood donors.

Lifeblood Donor Services executive director Cath Stone said the latest Covid wave has caused “particular strain” on the blood supply.

She said large numbers of existing donors were missing appointments due to infections and self-isolation.

“We know that current circumstances can make it difficult for people to give blood, with donors who are waiting on COVID-19 test results or quarantine unable to donate,” she said.

“Right now, we need others – in this case people with O and A blood types – to take the place of those who can’t donate.

“With one in three of us needing donated blood in our lifetime, the life you save could be that of a friend or family member.”

Australian gay and bi men’s three month celibacy period

Currently, Australian gay and bisexual men, and some trans women, must be celibate for three months before donating.

But Australian LGBTIQ group Just.Equal say this policy is out of step with international research.

Last week, both Greece and France made changes to blood donation policies lifting bans on gay men who can safely donate blood.

The two countries join the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Israel and Argentina and others in safely easing the former gay blood bans.

Most of the countries put the bans in place during the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

But since then, technology to screen blood for viruses has greatly improved.

The US is also facing Covid-related blood supply shortages. In that country, gay male donors also face a three month deferral period since their last sexual activity.

Last week, 22 US Senators called for the FDA to implement “evidence-based” blood donor policies “focused on assessment of an individual’s risk, not inaccurate and antiquated stereotypes.”

Australia should follow UK in lifting gay blood donation ban

In December 2020, the UK moved from a deferral period for gay blood donors to an individual risk assessment. The country now asks all prospective donors about behaviours deemed to be high risk of STI transmission.

Just.Equal say this blood donation policy is “one of the most equitable, without compromising safety.”

Last October, the group released a report reviewing the latest research into blood donor screening policies requiring celibacy periods for men who have sex with men.

“Taken together, data from current studies support the argument that abstinence-based deferrals are no longer necessary to protect the safety of the blood supply,” the report concludes.

Just.Equal Australia spokesperson Rodney Croome said Australia should adopt a policy of screening all potential donors for their individual risk.

“The Covid-related shortfall could easily be made up by allowing donations from those gay and bisexual men, and trans women, whose blood is safe but who are currently barred,” he said.

“Other countries have replaced their former gay blood bans with individuals risk assessment, with a resulting increase in safe blood.

“In Australia, individual risk assessment for all donors will make the blood supply even safer than it is because the proportion of gay men newly-infected with HIV is decreasing dramatically, while the proportion of hetersexual people newly infected is increasing.

“If Australia’s blood service and blood authorities refuse to go down the path of individual risk assessment they need to shoulder some responsibility for blood shortages.”

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