- ‘At a time of crisis like this, we can’t allow old prejudices to get in the way of saving lives.’
Australian LGBT+ campaigners are writing to the Red Cross Blood Service and federal government to ask them to lift the ban on gay and bi men donating blood.
It comes after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revised its own ban on blood donations. Until now, men who have sex with men had to wait 12 months after having sex before being blood donors. Now the FDA has reduced that to three months.
Like the US, Australia is facing shortages of blood. Regular donors are not coming forward because they are sick, self-isolating or fear catching COVID-19.
Now Australian Red Cross Blood Service experts predict there will be a blood shortage in the country by Easter Monday (13 April).
Moreover, plasma from people who have had coronavirus and recovered may be useful in treating people with COVID-19. But as plasma is a blood product, gay and bi men may also be banned from donating that too.
‘Blood will soon be in short supply in Australia’
Against this backdrop, equality campaigners are calling on the Red Cross and government to change the rules.
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.
Australia was due to review the ban in 2018, but that review never went ahead.
LGBT+ campaigner and Just.equal spokesperson, Rodney Croome, said:
‘Blood donation experts have said blood will soon be in short supply in Australia. We believe allowing blood donation from gay men whose sexual activity is safe would increase the supply of safe blood for those in need.
‘We call on the Australian Government to go further than the United States by removing the existing ban altogether and allowing gay men whose sexual activity is safe to donate.
‘The risk of passing on diseases like HIV through blood donation is created by unsafe sex, not gay sex.
‘We should have a screening policy that focuses on safety of sexual activity rather than gender of sexual partner.
‘There are thousands of gay men across Australia whose blood is safe and whose desire to help has never been greater.
‘Let’s allow them to give the gift of life before it’s too late and the blood shortage bites.’
Blood donation bans around the world
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 yesterday.
However some otherwise fairly LGBT+ friendly countries still have a one-year wait period after sex for gay and bi men, like Australia. 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.
Croome suggests extra screening for blood donated by men who have sex with men. He says this will ensure blood is safe despite people’s fears.
But he added: ‘At a time of crisis like this, we can’t allow old prejudices to get in the way of saving lives.’