Blood donation
In the United Kingdom, gay and bisexual men will be allowed to donate blood after a year of no sexual contact. Image: Flickr / Thirteen of Clubs / CC-BY-SA

In the 1980s, blood banks around the world put HIV-prevention restrictions in place that banned taking blood from from certain people. In England, Scotland and Wales, however, this restriction is being relaxed. After Australia, Sweden and Japan made a similar move, there was no detectable increase in HIV in the blood supply.

UK Department of Health changes restrictions

Since the early 1980s, any man who has had sexual contact with any other man has been banned from donating any blood, ever. This lifetime ban also applies to anyone who has ever had syphilis, hepatitis B or C, has worked as a prostitute, or who has ever injected drugs. Originally, this was because it was difficult to detect HIV in donated blood. Screening tests have improved since then. There is still a time gap between an individual getting infected and the virus being detectible. To account for that, the Department of Health is requiring any man wishing to donate blood to have not had any sexual contact with another man for the last 12 months.

No detectible risk to blood supply

The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs, which studies the safety of the blood supply in the U.K., offered the opinion that men who have had sexual contact with other men should not be subject to a lifetime ban on blood donation. Spain, Italy, Poland and Germany do not mention men who have had sexual contact with other men (MSM) in their screening criteria, only risky sexual behavior. In South Africa, MSM individuals are deferred from donating for six months from the date of last contact. Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Hungary and Japan all have a one-year deferral.

Continuing controversy

In the U.K., this decision to allow blood donations from men who have had sexual contact with other men is not without controversy. Statistically, MSM individuals have statistically high rates of HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections. Screening tests are not perfect, and there is still some risk of blood-borne diseases making it into the blood supply from infected donors. In the United States, MSM individuals still have a lifetime deferment, despite calls by the American Red Cross, the California legislature, the Washington D.C. City Council, and a wide range of other advocacy groups.

Sources

The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/08/gay-men-give-blood
BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-14824310
American Association of Blood Banks: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1537-2995.2010.02793.x/abstract;jsessionid=DC90A3403F7EB85D213115470C9E0918.d01t04

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