Gay Facebook users have panned a social media post from the Australian Red Cross Blood Service featuring two men.
The Facebook ad, featuring a photo of two men in Christmas sweaters (pictured), has attracted almost 300 comments.
“Whether or not you’re celebrating Christmas in July, you can give a lifesaving gift any time, because the need for blood doesn’t take a break,” the post reads.
But many gay Facebook users interpreted the photo as a gay couple. They vented their frustration at being excluded from donating blood. Currently, Australian men can’t donate if they have had male-to-male sex in the last 12 months.
“The gay couple featured in this ad aren’t allowed to give blood,” one person commented.
“What a slap in the face of gay men everywhere by using an image suggestive of a gay couple only so we can be told we are ineligible,” another wrote.
Another added: “I’m too gay to donate unfortunately. Otherwise I would’ve done so regularly.
“Even if I am in a monogamous relationship with a fellow HIV negative man and both on PrEP we still can’t donate.
“Let’s not pretend that 12 months abstinence isn’t homophobic here.”
Another wrote: “I’ve wanted to donate blood from the moment I was old enough, and even before. My blood is not acceptable enough, even though you clearly want and need more. It’s frankly disappointing.
“I have been with my partner for 6 years, we’re both perfectly healthy, but due to your rules, we can’t save a life this way.”
Red Cross Blood Service ‘understands frustration’ with screening process
Moderators from the Blood Service replied to explain why the men had received the sponsored ad on their Facebook feeds.
“Facebook currently does not allow us to exclude specific groups from our advertising,” the moderators wrote.
“We understand that our screening process may cause frustration but it is based on the most up-to-date medical evidence available.
“[This evidence] is regularly reviewed and our donor eligibility criteria must therefore focus on providing safe blood to patients who need it.
“This deferral is currently being reviewed. The review is still underway and there are processes we need to go through.
“Our medical experts are considering the advice of the committee along with international and local evidence, which will inform the in-depth clinical risk assessment and broader review.”
A spokesperson said the Blood Service promoted the Facebook post “to reach people in areas where the Blood Service has donor centres”.
“We welcome and encourage open discussion on our Facebook page.
“[The] commentary on this post has been a mix of our usual eligibility questions and feedback, rather than about the image of two men, who are former employees.
“The number of comments on the post is not unusual, and as always, we have been responding to people’s questions and comments.”
Blood donation deferral period is under review
The 12-month deferral period is one of several in place for donors “more likely to be exposed to infection or present other risks to the recipient,” the Blood Service says.
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, arguing the deferral period isn’t discriminatory.
The Blood Service received a new expert-led review in November. The service says it will consider a number of options and make a submission to the TGA. Ultimately, state and federal government will make a final decision on the deferral period.
The service’s chief medical officer Joanne Pink said there was an important balance between donation rates and blood safety.
“I understand this blood safety rule really frustrates people,” she told the ABC this month.
“We’re really pleased to be reviewing it again but it’s important we don’t take blood safety for granted.”
The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) has said the Blood Service could safely reduce the deferral period due to advances in HIV testing.
Early HIV blood screening tests were able to detect antibodies around 50 days after infection. But modern tests take as little as 10 days, according to the Kirby Institute.
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