A new study has found a majority of gay and bisexual Australian men would donate blood if allowed, but don’t due to the 12-month abstinence restriction.
Currently, men who have had sex with another man in the last twelve months can’t donate blood. Last month, the health regulator approved a reduction of that period to three months.
The new study, published this month in journal Transfusion, found that a majority of gay Aussies would donate blood if they were allowed.
The study questioned 1595 gay and bisexual Australian men on the topic. 77.7% said they would likely give blood if the policy changed. Also, 74.7% believed the current celibacy rules are “unfair, too strict and homophobic”.
“There was a high level of willingness and desire to donate blood among [gay and bisexual men],” the study concluded.
“However, rather than abstaining from sex in order to donate, many men comply with the deferral policy and do not donate.”
The study found “a less conservative deferral policy may increase donations” from gay and bisexual men.
The researchers also highlighted a 2018 Dutch study that found gay and bisexual men who have safe sex weren’t more likely to pass on disease through blood donation than heterosexual men.
Changes to Australia’s blood donation policy expected to start later this year
In April, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration proposed a drop in the deferral period from twelve months to three. Government leaders must also sign off on the change before it begins.
“Deferral policies are regularly reviewed and are underpinned by the most up-to-date clinical and scientific evidence,” Australia’s Lifeblood donation service said.
“Lifeblood would like to make it easier for all Australians to give blood, while ensuring Australia’s blood and blood products are as safe as possible for blood recipients.”
But many experts say due to advances in HIV testing, the deferral period can be safely replaced with a policy considering safety of donor’s sexual activity instead.
LGBTIQ group just.equal recently set up a letter-writing campaign on the issue. Spokesperson Rodney Croome wants supporters of an improved blood donor policy to write to their Health Ministers.
“[The Australian study] confirms that there would be a substantial increase in safe blood available to save lives if sexually active gay and bisexual men are allowed to donate,” he said.
Croome said blood donations were needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, however a three-month deferral period would make little difference.
“It’s time for Australia to adopt a more rational blood donation policy that screens donors for sexual safety rather than gender of sexual partner,” he said.
In the past few weeks, Brazil’s top court and Hungary’s government have both struck down similar deferral periods for men who have sex with men.
Under Hungary’s new policy, they can donate blood if their sexual behaviour isn’t deemed “risky”.
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