Blood donation rules in England and Scotland have been relaxed to allow gay men and sex workers to donate blood, due to more more accurate testing being available. Homosexual men can now donate blood three months after their last sexual activity instead of 12 months as was the rule before. Earlier gay men were banned from donating blood for life.
The rules were relaxed to 12 months after their last sexual activity in 2011. Sex workers, who could not donate blood before for life, are now also allowed to donate blood after the same three month gap between the blood donation and the last sexual activity.
Experts have welcomed this move by saying that this would remove discrimination against gay men and also give them an opportunity to donate blood and contribute to the blood supply. Testing systems now, explain experts, are so accurate that if the donors were compliant with the three month rule, there should be no problem. The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs - which advises UK health departments, recommended these changes.
At present all the donated blood in UK is meticulously screened for several virus borne disease including Hepatitis B and C, and HIV. According to experts, a three month window is long enough for these viruses to appear and get detected in blood before that blood is transfused to another person. According to Prof James Neuberger, from the committee the technology is so advanced now that the viruses can easily be picked up at much earlier stages than before and the blood donor can be screened before he or she can donate the blood that is to be used. The new rules would come into effect from November in blood donation centres in Scotland and in early parts of 2018 in the centres of England.
The rules may also consider persons who have had piercing, tattooing, acupuncture, history of non-prescribed injecting drug use etc. in future. These behaviors may all raise the risk of contracting one of the blood borne viral infections.
Alex Phillips, blood donations policy lead at the Terrence Higgins Trust said that these changes in the rule would end the “stigma” and “assumptions”. There is evidence, she explained, that three months is adequate time for the tests to pick up the viruses. “Lifetime bans” on blood donations on commercial sex workers is more due to “preconceptions” and prejudices than scientific evidence she said. Deborah Gold, chief executive of National Aids Trust, also said that this was a great step towards removing discrimination against gay and bisexual men. NHS Blood and Transplant, she added, is also considering some gay men to donate like any heterosexual persons without the three month window depending on absence of some risk factors and high risk behaviors.
According to NHS Blood and Transplant 200,000 new donors are needed each year in UK to fulfill the needs of the blood supplies. More persons from Asian and minority ethnic communities should step forth to donate blood it has been said.