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Blood Service deferrals

Male to male sex and blood donation

Here at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, we wish everyone could donate blood. But, for the safety and wellbeing of blood donors and the patients who receive donations, around a third of all Australians aren’t eligible.

One thing we’re often asked about is why men who have sex with men must wait 12 months before donating.

We realise that this restriction can be frustrating – it is for us too. I assure you that the Blood Service doesn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation, and that this rule is strictly for the medical reasons explained below.Shelly Park Chief Executive

In 2012 we proposed a reduction in the 12 months waiting period to 6 months for men who have sex with men, but unfortunately the Therapeutic Goods Administration did not approve this change. We have now established an independent expert Review Committee to revisit sexual activity-based deferral periods.

The committee will be asked several specific questions, including whether the current 12-month deferral period for these donors should be reduced to 6 months as per the previous recommendation in 2012 or a different duration.

I hope this information gives you some insight into why this restriction is necessary and what we’re doing about it.

Thank you for your understanding,

Shelly Park

Chief Executive

 

FAQs

 

What is the Blood Service policy regarding blood donation for men who have sex with men?

Men who have sex with men are not eligible to donate blood for 12 months since their last sexual contact with a man.

Is the Blood Service being discriminatory in not allowing gay men to donate?

No, our policy considers an assessment of risk, and does not discriminate against anyone. Deferrals are in place for any number of potential donors who may be more likely to be exposed to infection or present other risks to patients.

The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has visited this issue, and agrees that we are not being discriminatory with our deferral policy for men who have sex with men.

I’m in an exclusive relationship, why can’t I donate blood?

We understand that there are different levels of risk among men who have sex with men. The latest information from the Kirby Institute (University of NSW) states that HIV continues to be transmitted primarily through sexual contact between men. Even within declared monogamous relationships, the risk is on average 50 times higher than in heterosexual couples.

Don’t you test blood for HIV?

Yes, we test every donation. However, even this sophisticated testing is unable to detect the early presence of infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. We refer to this as a ‘window period’ – it’s a time when the infection is just starting and isn’t yet detectable. This is why we can’t rely on testing alone.

I disagree with you. Can I skip the question about men who have sex with men?

The donor questionnaire is a legal document that people must answer honestly. The rules around who can and can’t donate blood help to ensure that the blood supply in Australia is as safe as possible for patients.

Why can’t you ask more questions about behaviour to identify suitable donors?

Unfortunately, more detailed questions about sexual practices are not practical and will not change the scientific knowledge around the risk associated with men who have sex with men.

It’s been years since anyone was infected with HIV because of a blood donation. Surely it’s time to relax the rules?

Evidence shows that it’s the deferral system, alongside improved testing for HIV and other blood-borne diseases, that has kept transfusion-transmitted infection rates as low as they are.

In the general population, men who have sex with men accounted for 87% of newly acquired HIV cases in Australia in 2016.

Our deferral systems keep the rate of blood-borne infections amongst our donors lower than the general population.

How do you come to these decisions?

The deferral is based on research and international policy and is subject to ongoing review. Based on the recommendations from an external expert review committee which reported in 2012, we proposed to our regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), that men who have sex with men should be able to donate blood after a six month wait. Unfortunately in 2014 the TGA did not approve a shorter deferral period. We expressed our disappointment at the time and committed to reviewing the situation in 2018 or earlier should there be any substantial improvements in the factors impacting the deferral period. At the request of Australian governments in 2017 to bring the review forward, we have commenced a follow-up expert review to look at the issue again

What do they do in the rest of the world?

When we compare our policies with other blood services internationally, the Australian 12-month deferral policy is the same as, or shorter than the deferral in most other blood services around the world. For example, the deferral in Norway and Singapore is indefinite, and in the USA, New Zealand, Canada and France it is 12 months. Our policies are reviewed regularly; considering any available new evidence and current international practice.

Shouldn’t I have the right to donate?

Everyone has the right to receive safe blood, and our greatest concern is ensuring the safety of the blood supply. While we wish everyone could donate, we defer people for many reasons, including ensuring their own health.

Where can I find out more about the 2017 review?

Read more about the 2017 review

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