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Fact Finder: Our response to news.com.au's gay blood donation article

  • Rob Stott's story has generated discussion and a significant opportunity for people to learn more about how we use donor screening to safeguard Australia's blood supply.

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News.com.au reporter Rob Stott has expressed a very personal opinion about one of the Blood Service's sexual-activity-based deferrals.

While we understand his frustration, the Blood Service dismisses any claim or inference that we defer anyone based on their sexuality.  In fact, we went to great lengths to explain this to Rob using the facts, figures, and data available.

Because Rob has written a personal view and not been able to include a lot of the data we supplied, we thought we'd post it for anyone interested in seeing our response.

That way we can continue to educate the community about the importance of putting patient safety first.

 Rob's questions and our responses:

 

What is considered ‘low supply’ in your inventory? i.e. How many days’ supply do you generally have, compared to when it becomes a serious issue?

Right now our inventory is not the issue – rather, the impact of an early cold and flu season on our forward appointments could see us enter the Winter period with lower stocks than expected.

Around 1000 donors are cancelling each week due to having cold or flu symptoms.  They must wait until they are better before they can donate again.

That’s why we are calling for an extra 17,000 donors to come forward and roll up their sleeves over the next few weeks.

Are there any particular types of blood that are of more value to the blood service? (do you need more of the more common blood types, etc)

O Negative is the universal blood type and can be administered to anyone in the event of an emergency. It is therefore always most in demand.

In general, Australians give around 27,000 donations a week to meet patient needs. The need for blood never takes a break – but sometimes our donors do.  That’s why it’s not uncommon for us to issue a call to remind them that they’re still needed.

Could you please explain the screening process for every blood donation?

Patient safety is paramount, and because no test is 100 percent reliable, screening begins with the donor.  After filling out a donor questionnaire, our staff will quickly determine whether it is safe for the donor to give blood.

All blood collected is then sent to the nearest processing centre where is tested and separated into three components: red cells, plasma and platelets.

Those components are then stored in our fridges and are only dispatched on-demand to hospitals as they require stock.

On MSM donating blood

Patient safety comes first and we must use all available infectious disease surveillance data to determine if it is safe for us to collect blood, given our testing is not infallible. We have a very robust blood donor deferral system as a result.

Data from the Kirby Institute shows that more than 80 percent of new HIV infections in Australia are attributed to male-to-male sexual activity.

We have been working on reducing the deferral period from 12 to 6 months following a review of all available evidence.

That submission, made to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, was rejected. We are disappointed with the decision as we believe the evidence shows that it would be safe to decrease the deferral period to six months.

If there is notable change in any factors that bear on the deferral period, we will carry out a further review.

The most influential factors would be study results from overseas that would support a reduction in the deferral period, HIV trends in the general and donor population, and substantially improved testing for identification of HIV

Why can’t the blood service deal with MSM on an individual basis, rather than a blanket ban? (ie, someone in a long term monogamous relationship, compared to someone who may have multiple partners)

All of our deferral rules are designed to help us quickly identify when it is either safe or potentially unsafe to collect blood.

This is not a personal reflection on the donor, but rather a faster and safer way of collecting blood from many donors to ensure we meet our targets.

Also, it is important to note that we do not defer based on sexuality or relationships, but rather on sexual activity and the risk of transfusion-transmissible-infections entering the blood supply, based on annual surveillance data.

For example, the same 12-month deferral for sexual activity applies to people who have sex with a person from a geographical area where HIV is prevalent.

 Australia has one of the safest blood supplies in the world. Blood is always available for patients, and we continually review our deferral periods to ensure it is safe for as many people as possible to become blood donors.

 

It is worth noting that the United States has a lifetime ban, Canada a 5-year deferral, the UK changed from lifetime to 12 months in 2011, and New Zealand last week agreed to move from 5 years to 12 months:

http://www.samesame.com.au/news/10910/NZs-gay-blood-ban-timeframe-will-reduce