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Australia dials down gay blood ban but change could take months

Australia dials down gay blood ban but change could take months

  • It comes after the US also made it easier for gay and bisexual men to give blood.
Man on beach calls for people to donate blood.

Australia has reduced the amount of time gay and bi men have to wait after having sex to donate blood.

But the change may take months to confirm before men can actually donate.

Until now, Australia has insisted gay and bi men wait for a year after having sex before giving blood.

But the Red Cross was under pressure to update their guidance as coronavirus has created potential shortages in blood supply.

Adding to the need, doctors think plasma from people who have survived COVID-19 may be useful in treating the virus. But because plasma is a blood product, it is covered by the same rules.

Now Lifeblood – The Australian Red Cross Blood Service – which controls donations, has changed its policy. Gay and bi men will only have to wait three months before donating.

That matches new advice from the US Food and Drug Administration. It also reduced the wait time from 12 months to three months in response to the pandemic.

‘Blood shortages are looming’

However, LGBT+ campaigners have criticized Lifeblood for not going far enough.

Rodney Croome of just.equal wants the ban on gay and bi men’s blood scrapped altogether.

He said: ‘A three-month celibacy rule for gay blood donation is such a weak and ineffective response to the pandemic even the Trump administration has adopted it.

‘At best the new celibacy period is window dressing to make a bad policy look better.’

Moreover the reduction to three months doesn’t come into force straight away.

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration has agreed to the change and Lifeblood has announced it. But now all federal, state and territory governments must approve it. So the potential start date isn’t until later this year.

Croome said: ‘The new three month celibacy rule leaves most gay men who are safe to give blood still unable to donate.

‘At a time of crisis when blood shortages are looming, it is vital that all Australians who are not at risk of passing on blood-borne diseases are able to donate, including those gay men who are not at risk.’

Blood bans around the world

Australia introduced the ban at the height of another pandemic – the AIDS crisis. But now HIV transmission rates are falling in Australia among gay and bi men. Testing, treatment and HIV prevention drug PrEP have all reduced the risks.

LGBT+ campaigners, including Croome, argue Lifeblood should screen sexual behavior of donors, rather than ban all gay and bi men. That way, they argue, those having unsafe sex can still be kept out of the donation system.

At the moment countries including Spain, South Africa, Italy, Russia and Mexico allow gay and bi men to donate blood without a waiting period.

Meanwhile some other countries only ask for a three month wait after sex. They include the UK, Canada and now the US after the FDA decision in early April.

However some otherwise fairly LGBT+ friendly countries still have a one-year wait period after sex for gay and bi men. They include Belgium, Ireland and Malta.

Finally, Austria, Malaysia and Greece are among the countries which impose a lifetime ban on gay and bi men’s blood.