More gay blood donors could ease shortages, advocates say

Equality advocates have renewed their call for restrictions on gay and trans blood donors to be relaxed as donations have dropped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Australian Red Cross Lifeblood Service has appealed for 3,200 more donors as the latest wave of the pandemic has seen an increase in existing donors who are infected and self-isolating.

Currently, gay and bisexual men and some trans women must abstain from sex for three months before donating blood, a policy that a recent report by Just.Equal found is out of step with international research.

“A significant part of the COVID-related shortfall could be made up by allowing donations from those gay and bisexual men and trans women [who could otherwise donate] but who are currently barred,” said Just.Equal Australia spokesperson Rodney Croome.

“Since the beginning of 2022, Greece and France have joined the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Israel, Argentina, and a rising number of other countries in removing former gay blood bans.

“Meanwhile, the Canadian Government has said it will remove [its] ban, and 22 US senators have written to that country’s blood authorities asking for the same.”

Australia’s Therapeutical Goods Administration announced the change to a three-month deferral period in 2020, after gay and bisexual men and trans women had long been effectively banned from donating by a 12-month deferral.

HIV activists at the time welcomed the announcement, saying that it made “a lot more sense” in terms of balancing concerns.

Croome said that Just.Equal supports an alternative policy of screening all potential donors for their individual risk of blood-borne infections rather than applying a broad three-month deferral.

“Other countries have replaced their former gay blood bans with individual risk assessments, with a resulting increase in [available] blood,” he said.

“In Australia, individual risk assessment for all donors will make the blood supply even safer than it is because the proportion of gay men newly infected with HIV is decreasing dramatically, while the proportion of heterosexual people newly infected is increasing.

“If Australia’s blood service and blood authorities refuse to go down the path of individual risk assessment, they need to shoulder some responsibility for blood shortages.”

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