Lifeblood eased one blood donor rule, but ‘gay blood ban’ remains

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Australia’s decision to lift a “mad cow” ban and allow people who were in the UK during the 1980s and 1990s to donate blood has renewed calls to also lift an “antiquated” ban on most gay donors.

Australia introduced the “mad cow” blood donor ban in 2000. The rule prohibited UK residents from 1980 to 1996 from donating blood, to curb the spread of a mad cow disease outbreak at that time.

But scientists have now confirmed that risk of mad cow disease has greatly diminished. As a result, the Therapeutic Goods Administration have approved the lifting of the ban.

The Australian Red Cross Lifeblood service said this makes it possible for 18,000 more people to give blood.

LGBTIQ+ advocates are calling for Lifeblood to further relax other rules around blood donors to allow the safe donation of thousands more litres of blood each year.

At present men who have sex with men, trans women and non-binary people who have sex with men are not able to give blood unless they abstain from sex for three months.

‘Our goal is simple, to help those in need’

LBGTIQA+ advocacy group Just.Equal is running the Let Us Give campaign to remove that blanket three-month ban.

Let Us Give spokesperson Thomas Buxereau (pictured) said Australia should remove “antiquated bans based on the gender of your sexual partner” and adopt individual risk assessment instead.

“According to Lifeblood, Australia’s blood supply is dangerously low,” he said.

“Our goal is simple, to help those in need by giving blood.

“If Australia adopts a new policy whereby all donors of whole blood are assessed for their individual risk regardless of the gender of their sexual partner, there will be an extra 25,000 litres of whole blood available to save the lives of Australians in need.”

Lifeblood Research Director Dr David Irving told SBS News this week that Lifeblood recently reduced the deferral period from 12 months to three months.

He said that Lifeblood is considering reducing that period further or removing it.

“We’re continuing to review those various different deferrals,” he said.

“But I think the important thing that we do first and foremost is to ensure that we’ve got a safe and secure blood supply for patients.”

Dr Irving said Lifeblood is considering allowing men who have sex with men to donate certain blood products, including plasma.

“We’re in constant discussion with Therapeutic Goods Administration about that, particularly for our donors, plasma and plasma donation,” he said.

“There are a number of different steps are involved in the fractionation process [separating blood into parts] that result in inactivation of viruses.”

Lifeblood ‘hears the hurt, frustration and anger’ around gay donor rules

Countries overseas to adopt individual risk assessment in recent years include Canada, the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands.

Last month, a Lifeblood spokesperson said while some countries had changed their rules, each has 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.”

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1 Comment

  1. Paul
    27 July 2022

    In 2022, it’s sad, outdated and disappointing that gay men can not legally donate blood within Australia. In Canada, France and the UK gay men can legally donate blood. Why can’t we follow these 3 countries with donating blood policies?

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