NSW government supports TGA’s new gay blood donor rules

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The NSW government has backed the TGA’s recommendation to ease restrictions on Australian gay men donating blood.

Currently, Australia’s Lifeblood donation service refuses male donors who have had sex with men in the past 12 months.

However last week, health regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) accepted Lifeblood’s proposal to lower that deferral period for men who have had sex with men to three months.

The proposal must now go to all Australian governments for final approval. The NSW government has indicated it will follow the TGA’s recommendation.

“The NSW government is committed to ensuring the safety of the blood supply in NSW,” a NSW Health spokesperson told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“[The government] will work to have a nationally consistent approach to eligibility for blood donation, in line with TGA guidance.”

The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby called on governments to implement the changes as soon as possible, given the current health crisis.

“During the current public health crisis, it is especially critical that Australians continue to donate blood,” NSW GLRL convenor Jack Whitney said.

“Now that the NSW Government has indicated it will move ahead, it should act swiftly to implement the decision of the TGA and lower the deferral period for men who have had sex with men.”

Queensland Health has been contacted for comment.

Australia’s Lifeblood service said the decision is based on the most up-to-date clinical and scientific evidence.

“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,” the service said.

Gay blood donation restrictions eased due to advances in HIV testing

Australia banned gay men from donating blood altogether following the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s. The blood donation service introduced the current 12-month deferral period in 2000.

The TGA’s latest recommendation comes after similar moves in the UK, Canada and the USA to reduce the deferral time to three months.

But LGBTIQ advocates and health experts have called for the easing of restrictions to go further, due to huge strides in HIV testing.

For gay men who are sexually active the changes will likely make little difference.

Gay men on PrEP, for example, will still face a 12 month deferral period under the new rules. This is due to a lack of “real-world data” about the relatively new medication, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations said.

The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby urged all authorities to keep reviewing evidence relating to blood donation restrictions.

“The risk of passing on infections through blood donation is created by unsafe sex. [It’s] not because of individual markers of sexual preference and gender,” Whitney said.

“The lobby recommends removing the existing deferral period altogether.

“We want to see all individuals whose sexual activity is safe, and meet the other requirements, to be able to donate regardless of time period.”

In the meantime, the Lifeblood website also provides advice on eligibility to prospective donors who identify as lesbian, intersex, transgender or gender diverse.

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