Greens senator Janet Rice has lashed “ridiculous” blood donation rules affecting Australian transgender women with male partners.
In Australia, our Lifeblood donation service makes men who have sex with other men wait three months after sexual activity to donate blood.
Transgender men and women must also wait three months after sex with a male or trans partner before donating.
Senator Rice told a recent parliamentary hearing a trans woman contacted her after Lifeblood told her she couldn’t give blood despite over 100 donations over 14 years.
The woman is in a 10-year monogamous relationship with her male partner, and they are married.
“She expressed how upset she is that she is no longer able to donate, despite her risk factors being in line with cisgender people in monogamous relationships,” Rice said.
“I don’t know the details of her sex life and I don’t want to.
“But I note she is banned from donating blood because of a high global risk of HIV being derived from anal intercourse with an anatomically male partner.”
Senator Rice said the screening form didn’t ask about activities beyond men having sex with other men.
“A trans woman married to a man can’t donate blood. But the man she’s married to can donate blood,” she said.
“This is frankly ridiculous.”
TGA boss questioned on LGBT blood donation policy
Senator Janet Rice recounted the trans woman’s story to Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) boss John Skerritt at the Senate hearing.
Professor Skerrit said to change the policy Lifeblood would need to submit evidence-based analysis to the TGA, which they would welcome and review.
“[The] deferral is based on the risk of disease being not able to be reliably detected within a window,” he said.
“You can’t donate blood … if you’ve been to a malaria zone recently or were in the UK when there was a lot of mad cow disease around.
“It is not based on an individual. An individual makes a donor declaration. They may be deferred, be it for geographical reasons or sexual activity reasons and so forth.
“That is the tool Lifeblood uses because that is how they interact with their donors.”
On whether the policy is discriminatory, Professor Skerrit said, “Blood donation in Australia – unlike say, the US – is a gift. It is not a fee for a service.
“Some of the anti-discrimination rules and legislation that apply to the provision of a paid service do not apply for a donation.”
‘Not enough resources’ to follow UK’s lead on blood donation
Senator Rice also asked Skerrit if Australia was considering the UK’s recent reforms to their blood donation policy.
The UK screens all blood donors based on individual risk, scrapping their previous three-month deferral period for gay and bi men.
Professor Skerritt said both Lifeblood and the TGA are “looking closely” at the UK model.
“I know that [Lifeblood] are looking at the UK situation closely,” he said.
“At the moment, they are not of the view that they will implement it here.”
He told Senator Rice an individual risk-based approach is “essentially much more time consuming”.
“It requires a more detailed questionnaire. It requires the staff onsite to be both skilled and have the time to assess those individual risk-based questions.
“[They may have] to ask follow-up questions, some of which can be quite personal in a confidential and private setting.
“Lifeblood at the moment [say] their resources – and yes, I guess everything in life comes down to money – cannot accommodate that.”
Senator Rice queried if the federal government could address that issue with more funding.
“It basically says we’re discriminating against men who have sex with men and transgender people on the basis of funding,” she said.
Lifeblood eased donor rules earlier this year
Earlier this year, Lifeblood reduced its deferral period for gay, bi and transgender donors from 12 months to three.
Lifeblood began the new policy from January 31, after a review of its sexual activity deferral policies.
However if a donor is taking HIV prevention medication PrEP, they are still ineligible to donate blood for 12 months.
“This is because there is evidence that shows PrEP impacts the ability of our tests to pick up early HIV infection,” Lifeblood explains.
In March, Lifeblood apologised to a gay man on PrEP who was incorrectly told he could donate while taking the medication.
LGBTIQ advocates have called on Australia to follow the UK’s lead and bring in individual risk assessment.
After the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, authorities previously banned gay men from donating altogether. Australia began the long-standing 12 month celibacy period in 2000.
For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.