Gay men in New Zealand will be able to give blood if they have tested negative for HIV and been sexually inactive for at least 12 months if new recomendations are approved.
Previously gay men had to be sexually inactive for five years before they could donate blood but a team from the New Zealand Blood Service noted that blood banks in neighboring Australia had successfully managed a one year exclusion period for gay men for ten years without any increase of HIV entering the blood supply.
‘The number of HIV positive donations in the five‐year period before the policy change was the same as the number in the five years following, and the proportions that were MSM were not significantly different,’ the New Zealand Blood Service team found.
‘Since that time, Australia has had a review of donor deferral related to sexual activity and has concluded that the deferral period for [men who have sex with men] and sex workers could be reduced to six months.'
The team noted that the Australian Red Cross Blood Service had accepted this recommendation but Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration barred it from putting it into practice.
The team found that the greatest danger to the blood supply was from those who were very recently infected and did not yet have a detectable HIV load in justifying the reduction in the exclusion period.
LGBTI rights group Rainbow Wellington welcomed the change but told Radio New Zealand it would prefer the blood service adopted a model where people were excluded based on whether they engaged in risky behavior rather than a blanket ban of people based on their sexual orientation.
The group is considering whether to make a complaint to New Zealand’s Human Rights Commission over the new policy.
The 12 month exclusion period still needs to be approved by New Zealand’s MedSafe authority before it can be put into practice.