New campaign calls for rethink of Australia’s gay blood donor ban

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Australian LGBTIQ groups just.equal and PFLAG have launched a new letter-writing campaign calling for Australia to overhaul restrictions on gay blood donors.

Currently, men who have had sex with another man in the last twelve months can’t donate blood. The same period also applies for many transgender donors.

Last month, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which sets Australia’s blood donation guidelines, approved a reduction in that deferral period from twelve months to three.

Now all federal, state and territory health ministers must sign off on the change before it takes effect.

But just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome says the change doesn’t go far enough and still “unfairly stigmatises” gay and trans Australians.

“A three month celibacy period won’t remove discrimination or substantially increase the supply of safe blood,” he said.

“It’s time for Australia’s health ministers to consider a more effective blood donation policy which focuses on what actually creates disease risk – unsafe sex.

“The current ban… should be replaced with a new policy that screens donors for sexual safety rather than gender of sexual partner.

“This would make the blood supply safer, more abundant and less discriminatory, which is particularly important at a time of medical emergency like now.”

US experts want similar changes to ‘unscientific’ gay blood donation ban

Australia’s Lifeblood donation service explained it made the pitch for the new three-month deferral period to the TGA after a comprehensive review.

“Deferral policies are regularly reviewed and are underpinned by the most up-to-date clinical and scientific evidence,” Lifeblood said, in order to “maintain one of the safest blood supplies in the world.”

“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.”

However in the United States, hundreds of health professionals and mainstream politicians have spoken out against their country’s similar three-month deferral period for men who have sex with men.

LGBTIQ group GLAAD published a letter last month signed by 500 health professionals. They say new blood testing technologies can reliably detect HIV just days after infection.

Requiring gay men to abstain from sex for three months prior to donating blood is “unscientific and based on outdated antibody-based HIV testing algorithms,” the letter argues.

“We are not advocating for relaxing standards that would compromise the safety of our blood supply,” they write.

“Policies and protocols which focus on targeted screening for specific high-risk behaviours, regardless of sexual orientation, are a much more scientifically rigorous and non-discriminatory approach to maintaining a safe blood supply.”

How to write a letter to your Health Minister on the issue

Rodney Croome says he wants to see a similar movement against Australia’s restrictions.

Just.equal has joined with PFLAG to make it easy for Australians to write a letter to health ministers across the country on the issue.

PFLAG’s Shelley Argent said, “I have a gay son and a straight son and I want them both treated equally by society. This includes being able to save lives by donating blood.

“The current gay blood donation ban is based on the assumption that gay sex is always risky and straight sex is always safe which is nonsense.”

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