Gay couple petitioning to change ‘outdated’ blood donation policy

ky ruprecht petition gay blood donation policy red cross blood service
Photo: Ky Ruprecht

A gay couple from Canberra are petitioning for changes to the Red Cross Blood Service’s “outdated” donation policy restricting gay men from donating blood. petitioner Ky Ruprecht said his partner Connor went to donate at a Red Cross van, but was turned away.

At the time, Connor was not even aware of the deferral period preventing gay or bisexual men from donating if they have had male-to-male sex in the last 12 months.

“Many people are unaware that as a man in a same-sex relationship in Australia in 2019 I cannot donate my blood,” Mr Ruprecht said.

“My partner of many years cannot donate his blood either.

“He’s a nurse and I’m a medical student. We’re in a long term monogamous relationship and we are both negative for any bloodborne diseases.

“Our colleagues regularly donate blood. They’re often surprised to learn we can’t.”

Couple’s gay blood donation petition gets 4,000 signatures

Mr Ruprecht said the “blanket refusal of blood” from men who have sex with men “casts a wide net of unnecessary exclusion.”

But reducing the deferral period from 12 to six months would make very little difference, he said.

“Shifting away from a [blanket] ban towards individual screening risk would increase the donor pool without increasing the risk of contamination to the blood bank,” he said.

Mr Ruprecht said the current exclusion of all men who have sex with men (MSM) was outdated. The policy assumes all of the men carry equally high risk of bloodborne diseases, he said.

“While the HIV incidence and prevalence is higher in MSM populations the contact risk of exposure is not the same for every individual in this subgroup,” he said.

“Currently a heterosexual person can engage in unprotected sex with as many partners as they like, in whatever way they like and are eligible to donate.

“A monogamous gay man who can prove his negative disease status cannot.”

Mr Ruprecht’s petition has received over 4,000 signatures.

He said in 2000, Australia was one of the first to move from a permanent ban on MSM donors to a 12 month deferral. But two decades on Australia is lagging behind.

Red Cross Blood Service are currently reviewing deferral period

The Red Cross Blood Service says the 12-month deferral period is one of several for donors “more likely to be exposed to infection or present other risks to the recipient.”

“The Blood Service is not discriminating against anyone based on their sexuality; rather the policies are based on assessment of risk,” the service states on their website.

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 last November.

The service says it will consider a number of options and make a submission to the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Ultimately, state and federal government will make a final decision on any change to the deferral period.

Red Cross Blood Service 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 ABC News last 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 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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