Australia’s Red Cross Lifeblood donation service has apologised to a gay man on PrEP who was incorrectly told he could donate while taking the medication.
From January 31, men who have sex with men (MSM) and some trans donors are permitted to give blood if they haven’t been sexually active for three months.
The new rule replaced the previous waiting period of 12 months, which effectively barred gay men from donating.
However, if a donor is taking HIV prevention medication PrEP, they are still ineligible to donate blood for 12 months.
But New South Wales man Daniel Cottier has spoken out after he says Lifeblood staff gave him incorrect information.
“I was ready to give over a big bag of O-negative for the first time in a decade,” he explained.
“A very sweet nurse and I had a chat about why I was there and the fact I’d [campaigned on] the deferral period being lessened for gay men.
“I told her about how I had done my three months of celibacy and returned a negative STI check.”
Cottier said he’d even called the hotline to check his eligibility while on PrEP. The operator “had responded in the affirmative,” he said.
“But then the nurse told me something, that information was inaccurate,” he wrote.
Cottier said the nurse explained because he’d taken PrEP, he was ineligible to donate for 12 months.
“[The nurse] was very apologetic and lovely as I sat and cried in her cubicle,” he said.
New South Wales man wants clarity after donor centre turns him away
Daniel Cottier said he was “devastated” after “trying so hard” to donate blood.
“Trying to get the deferral period lessened in the first place. Trying to encourage LGBTQIA+ friends that this would be a valuable and fulfilling thing to do,” he wrote.
“It would have, but Lifeblood’s ignorance of the gay community stopped that.”
Cottier said he was asking Lifeblood for clarity around the rules for donors. He also wants Lifeblood to better train call centre staff so “no one else has to sit there and feel ashamed.”
“Nowhere in the LGBTQIA+ donor section does it mention you become ineligible for 12 months if you practice safer sex by taking PrEP,” he said.
“You must put in a section about gay men taking PrEP being ineligible to donate on the LGBTQIA+ page.
“I also believe people are entitled to justification on this.
“It makes no sense that people who are taking a drug to prevent HIV infection should have a longer deferral period that those who are not.”
Lifeblood explains restrictions for gay men on PrEP
Lifeblood responded to Daniel Cottier’s post to apologise and clarify men on PrEP must wait 12 months before donating blood.
A spokesperson said Lifeblood had originally proposed the three-month deferral period for MSM back in 2013. That change came into effect on January 31, 2021.
The service is now also working on reducing the deferral period for PrEP users too.
“The current postponement for PrEP users is 12 months,” they wrote.
“But we have been reviewing the available evidence for some time, in particular the impact of PrEP on testing.
“[We] have already made a submission to the TGA to reduce this deferral to three months since the last sexual contact.
“This submission was separate to the sexual activity submission and is still under consideration by the TGA.”
The spokesperson said Lifeblood hopes to reduce the post-PrEP postponement period to 3 months.
“We do understand that not everyone will agree with our policies,” the spokesperson said.
“But we have to follow the directives of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and the National Blood Authority (NBA). [They] seek the advice of medical science experts in this field.
“Importantly, Lifeblood must ensure the safety of the blood supply whilst trying our best to make it easier for everyone to donate.
“Having said that, we’d like to apologise for the inconvenience caused to you when you had gone out of your way to meet the requirements to be able to donate, only to be turned away at the donor centre.”
Lifeblood clarifies blood donation rules for gay donors on PrEP
Lifeblood has a specific page for LGBTIQ donors on its website. That website now features a prominent clarification about PrEP.
“If you’re taking pre-exposure HIV prophylaxis (PrEP) you’ll need to wait 12 months since your last dose before you can donate,” it now reads.
“This is because there is evidence that shows PrEP impacts the ability of our tests to pick up early HIV infection.”
A Lifeblood spokesperson said, “We’re very sorry for any confusion or hurt this lack of information may have caused donors and the community.
“Our website does not list all reasons for asking donors to wait before donating blood because there are many of them [and] they can change.
“But we agree the rules around PrEP should be available.
“To prevent any future confusion, we’ve updated our website and donor communications to include the postponement guidelines for PrEP.”
Calls for Australia to follow UK and remove deferral periods for gay donors
Australian LGBTIQ advocates have called on Lifeblood to replace the three-month deferral period with a policy focussing on individual risk.
Lobby group just.equal says the three-month rule still unfairly excludes many gay men. The policy should instead on “safety of sexual activity, rather than gender of sexual partner,” they say.
Last December, the UK scrapped its similar three-month ban and introduced new criteria focusing on individual donor’s behaviour.
Around one in three Australians will need blood or blood products in their lifetime, according to Lifeblood. One blood donation can save up to three lives.
For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.