Australia’s Red Cross Lifeblood service has eased long-standing blood donation rules for gay, bi and transgender donors across the country.
Gay, bi and some trans donors are now permitted to give blood if they have been celibate for three months.
The new rule is a reduction from the previous waiting period of 12 months, which effectively banned them from donating.
However LGBTIQ advocates say the new three-month rule still unfairly excludes many who can safely donate.
The Lifeblood service said the rules came into effect from January 31, after a review of its sexual activity deferral policies.
Under the new rules, male donors are asked if they’ve had sex with another man in the past three months. This includes oral and anal sex with or without a condom.
If they have, they’ll need to wait three months from their last sexual contact before donating.
Transgender donors must also wait if they have had sex with a male or transgender partner in the last three months. This applies to donors who are either trans women or trans men.
Last year, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration and all governments signed off on Lifeblood’s proposal to lower the celibacy period.
“We are pleased to report this change was applied on 31 January 2021. [It’s] now in place for all applicable sexual-activity-based blood donation deferral policies,” the service said.
“At Lifeblood we’re continuing our focus to make it easier for all Australians to give blood, while always ensuring Australia’s blood and blood products are as safe as possible for blood recipients.”
After the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, authorities previously banned gay men from donating altogether. The 12 month celibacy period began in 2000.
However international research says donation services can safely reduce the celibacy period further, due to huge strides in HIV screening.
New blood donation rules don’t go far enough
However, LGBTIQ group just.equal has slammed the decision not to scrap the celibacy period altogether.
Spokesperson Rodney Croome said authorities should screen blood donors based on individual risk factors and not gender or sexual orientation.
A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health found such individual measures “are equally effective in protecting the blood supply”.
The study was commenting on the US government’s decision to reduce the deferral period from 12 months to 3 months.
Croome said given the study’s findings, Lifeblood “reducing the celibacy period is tinkering at the edges.”
“To remove discrimination and increase the supply of safe blood, Australia must adopt a new approach,” he said.
“[We should] screens donors for their individual sexual risk rather than the gender of their sexual partner.
In December, the UK governments implemented individual risk assessment for gay and bi men, scrapping the existing three-month deferral period.
“It’s time for Australia to do the same,” Croome said.
“We call on the Australian Red Cross Lifeblood Service to ditch a policy American experts label ‘illogical and unsubstantiated’, and adopt a policy based on scientific evidence instead.”
Last year, a study found 78 per cent of gay and bisexual Australian men would donate blood if allowed.
However, they don’t, in order to comply with the current 12-month abstinence restriction.
One in three Australians will need blood or blood products in their lifetime. One blood donation can save up to three lives.
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