A new campaign calling for an end to blood donation policies preventing gay men, bisexual men, transgender women and non-binary people who have sex with men, was launched on World Blood Donor Day this week.
The Let Us Give campaign wants the current three-month abstinence periods for those groups replaced by individual risk assessment.
Countries overseas have adopted that approach, including Canada, the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands.
In Australia, the Red Cross Lifeblood’s current policy requires these groups to be celibate for three months before donating blood.
Let Us Give spokesperson Thomas Buxereau said changing to individual assessment would help address Australia’s blood supply shortages.
Just this week, Lifeblood pleaded for an additional 7000 donations due to high levels of cancellations, reschedules and no-shows.
However the Let Us Give campaign estimates that a policy change would allow 25,000 litres of blood to go to people in need.
Buxereau (pictured) said he’s been in a relationship with his husband for 12 years.
“Our goal is simple, to help those in need by giving blood,” Buxereau said.
“The new campaign is about increasing the supply of safe blood by adopting individual risk assessment and removing the antiquated bans based on the gender of your sexual partner.”
“We’ve launched a petition, and are encouraging our supporters to write to Lifeblood and to the new federal health minister Mark Butler.”
UK focuses on screening all donors on sex behaviours
Just.Equal research advisor Dr Sharon Dane recently authored a review on the issue and the policies overseas.
She explained the Let Us Give campaign is advocating for the UK’s policy model. The UK focuses on screening all potential donors for behaviours that risk HIV contraction.
Dr Dane said for example, anal sex with a new partner would require a person to defer giving blood. But the same sexual activity with a long term partner would not.
“More and more Western countries, including Canada, Britain, France and the Netherlands, have moved away from the unrealistic abstinence requirements and towards individual risk assessment,” Dr Dane said.
“Recent research shows such measures can allow for more available blood, while keeping the blood supply safe.”
Dr Dane said in Canada 61 per cent of new male HIV infections are from male-to-male sex, and 22 per cent from men engaging in heterosexual sex.
But the country had still adopted individual risk assessment when screening blood donors.
“The proportion of new HIV cases attributed to men and transgender women who have sex with men no longer matters if you are prepared to treat all potential donors equally and if you don’t fear asking everyone the same questions,” Dr Dane said.
“This is the case with individual risk assessment.”
Lifeblood ‘hears the hurt, frustration and anger’ around gay donor rules
A Lifeblood spokesperson said while some countries had changed their rules, each had to consider their own HIV patterns.
“It makes sense for the UK and Canada to do this, because HIV cases aren’t concentrated in one group. They are more evenly spread across the population,” they said.
“Compared with the UK and Canada, HIV in Australia is more concentrated in those engaging in male-to-male sexual activity.
“In heterosexuals [it is] concentrated in those with a partner from a high-risk HIV area overseas.”
The spokesperson said the three-month deferral also applies to heterosexual risk groups. Those include people with a new sexual partner from a HIV prevalent country.
The spokesperson said Lifeblood was committed to making it easier for more people to donate blood.
But they said based on current HIV data, an individual assessment option “isn’t currently the best option for Australia”.
“HIV rates in Australia are changing, and Lifeblood will continue to monitor those,” they said.
The spokesperson added, “We understand these rules exclude some groups from doing what others take for granted – helping sick people get better.
“We hear the hurt, frustration, and the anger, and we understand the desire to help. We want that too.”
Lifeblood is currently investigating a possible change to allow more gay and bisexual men to donate plasma.
The spokesperson said those donations “undergo processing that reduces the risk of possible infections.”
Health Minister Mark Butler said Lifeblood would need to make a submission to the TGA in order to make further changes to donation rules.
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