Australia’s blood donation authorities should follow the lead of their UK counterparts and lift blanket bans on gay men donating blood, LGBTIQ advocates say.
On Monday, the UK began new blood donation rules assessing the risk of donors individually. The new policy replaces blanket restrictions on gay and bisexual men.
Under the rules, male donors will no longer be asked if they have had sex with another man. Instead, any individual who attends to give blood, regardless of gender, will be asked about new sexual partners and recent sexual activity.
If they’ve had the same sexual partner for the last three months, they can donate. The landmark change means UK gay men in sexually active, monogamous relationships can donate for the first time.
In Australia, our donation service Lifeblood restricts all gay and bi men who have had sex with men in the last three months from donating.
This includes gay and bi men in monogamous relationships.
Today marks a landmark change to blood donation eligibility rules! 🎉🙌
These new eligibility rules will allow more men who have sex with men to donate blood, platelets and plasma.
— NHS Blood+Transplant (@NHSBT) June 14, 2021
Australia should follow UK’s lead
Just.Equal Australia spokesperson Rodney Croome said Lifeblood should adopt the new UK rules. He described the UK policy as “win-win”.
“It means there will be more safe blood for those in need, and less stigma and discrimination faced by those gay, bisexual and transgender people [previously] unfairly excluded,” he said.
“Risk of infection with HIV and other diseases through blood transfusion arises from the safety of a donor’s sexual activity, not the gender of their sexual partner.
“The UK policy recognises this fact by shifting to an assessment of each individual’s risk.
“We urge the Australian Lifeblood Service to lift its gay ban as soon as possible.
“So Australians in need can benefit from more safe blood and so there’s less unnecessary discrimination in obtaining that blood.”
Lifeblood defends three-month deferral period for gay blood donors
In Australia, transgender people must also wait three months after sex before donating.
Australians taking HIV prevention medication PrEP must wait 12 months since their last sexual contact.
This is due to evidence showing it impacts the ability of tests to pick up early HIV infection, Lifeblood explains.
Lifeblood’s chief medical officer Joanne Pink told the ABC last month the three month celibacy period is to account for testing often not being able to pick up early sexually-transmitted infections.
She said individualised risk assessment policies in other countries rely on a more even distribution of new HIV infections across the population, which Australia doesn’t have.
“We concluded that this approach would likely reduce blood safety if implemented in Australia,” she told Triple J’s Hack program.
“Eighty-four per cent of all newly acquired cases of HIV in Australia are attributed to men who have sex with men.
“This means that we establish whether groups of people who engage in certain activities and behaviours have a higher risk of exposure to a blood-borne infection.
“It’s a bit like sending a whole suburb into COVID lockdown. We ask groups of people to do things to keep us all safe.”
Lifeblood says they need more than 31,000 blood donations each week to meet patients needs’ across Australia.
Around one in three Australians will require blood products in their lifetime.
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