Ban on Gay men from donating blood to be reviewed in light of new evidence

Australian Red Cross Blood Service (ARCBS) has recently announced plans for a review of Australia's ban on sexually-active gay men donating blood. Canada, Scotland, Sweden and New Zealand have already conducted such reviews and the US is soon to follow suit.

At present, anyone who has had male-to-male sex is banned from donating blood for 12 months after the last sexual activity. Till now the Australian Red Cross had turned a blind eye to the policy with the standard reasoning that majority of Australians with HIV have been infected through sex among gay men. However generalization of all gay men into HIV positives is not justified. A majority of this population practices safe sex and may never be infected at all.

ARCBS spokesman Nick McGowan said on Monday, “We think its an opportune time to review the policy as it stands…We'll look at the policy as it stands ... and we'll cast a wide net to ensure we canvass all views, but also the review will take of any scientific data or medical findings that (may apply) both here and Australia and abroad.”

In 2008 a Tasmanian gay man, Michael Cain had taken ARCBS to the State Anti-Discrimination Tribunal. He had said that all potential blood donors should be screened for safety of their sexual activity rather than the gender of their sexual partner, because it is unsafe sex, not male-to-male sex, which is responsible for HIV infection. This latest decision to review is a result of this case.

The case brought to light the facts that HIV can be detected as early as two weeks after infection and thus all donors can be effectively screened. It also highlighted the fact that studies that show that gay men have a "high prevalence of HIV" because "many report high levels of casual sex", and "do not practice safe sex" that were quoted by Red Cross are out dated.

Recent studies have shown that many gay men are as sexually exclusive and responsible as other people. Using mathematical models the risk of homosexual men and heterosexual persons having HIV, researchers have found that gay men have a lower risk of the disease than the latter.

The Tribunal ruled the ban to remain but agreed that donation from some gay men would pose negligible risk to our blood supply and emphasized upon the need for a review. There are recommendations that the review should involve all stakeholders for example representatives from people with haemophilia and other diseases needed regular blood transfusions, from people who have suffered ill consequences of infected blood transfusion and from the homosexual community. The united aim should be to ensure a safe and adequate supply of blood for transfusion.

Mike Kennedy, the Victorian AIDS Council executive director said he was ''fully supportive of a full review of the policy.'' ''I think there's range of views around that haven't taken into account the most recent science, for example the development of a shorter time in which standard tests can detect HIV,'' he said.

According to Mr. McGowan the review will be here in another year and there would be "ample opportunity for the public and all stakeholders to have a say". He did not promise that the review would change the current stand emphasizing that the "overwhelming priority for the blood service is the safety of our blood supply". "I also think the public would expect the blood service ... to keep up with the best medical advice and scientific data available, not just on this policy but on every policy we have," he concluded.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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