Since the Therapeutic Goods Administrations’ (TGA) announced its approval for reducing the blood donation deferral period for men who have sex with men to three months, LGBTQI advocates are calling to remove the ban on gay blood donation completely.
Until now men who have had sex with men in the past 12 months cannot give blood due to the risk of potential HIV transmission, which advocates claim to be discriminatory, scientifically inaccurate and counterproductive for the current health climate.
The TGA’s decision now needs to be approved by Commonwealth, state and territory governments and implemented by the Australian Red Cross Lifeblood (formerly knowns as the Blood Service).
However, a leading spokesperson for LGBTQI advocacy group, just.equal, is one of many organisations calling for outright removal of the ban.
just.equal spokesperson, Rodney Croome, said that the proposed three months celibacy ban is effectively useless for opening up Australia’s blood supply during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as a change that still favours vicious stereotypes over scientific facts.
“At a time of crisis when blood shortages are looming, it is vital that all Australians who are not at risk of passing on blood-borne diseases are able to donate, including those gay men who are not at risk.
“The risk of HIV transmission through blood transfusion arises from unsafe sex, not gay sex, so we urge the TGA and the Red Cross Lifeblood service to adopt a new policy of screening all donors for the safety of their sexual activity rather than the gender of their sexual partner.
“At best the new celibacy period is window dressing to make a bad policy look better. A three-month celibacy rule for gay blood donation is such a weak and ineffective response to the pandemic even the Trump administration has adopted it.
“It may actually entrench the notion that gay men pose a special threat to public health by making the ban on our blood seem less unreasonable.”
Croome also told Star Observer that continuing to require 12 months celibacy for people who use the HIV prevention medicine, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), is not only ridiculous but also a decision rooted in prejudice.
“In fact, PrEP users are less likely to pass on HIV through transfusion than others.
“Unfortunately what lies behind this position is a lot of stereotyping and prejudice about PrEP users, same as the blanket ban on all sexually active gay and bisexual men.”
Croome also referred to the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer media advocacy organisation, GLAAD, and their calls for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States to lift the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.
“There is a global push to remove all celibacy periods altogether. I’d like to see a similar movement in Australia. We need to rid ourselves of these discriminatory and counterproductive celibacy periods.”
Amid America’s COVID-19 pandemic, GLAAD organised a petition, calling on the FDA to allow LGBTQI men to donate blood after the American Red Cross had to cancel 2,700 blood drives in the past month.
The FDA does not allow men who have sex with men to donate blood if they’ve had sexual contact in the 12 months before donation due to concerns surrounding HIV infection.
The CEO and president of GLAAD, Sarah Kate Ellis, said in a statement that now is the time to access every available avenue for medical support.
“The FDA needs to put science above stigma,” she said.
“Gay and bisexual men … want to give blood and should be able to contribute to help their fellow Americans.”
Australian state leaders are also now calling on their states to ease blood donation restrictions, despite still aligning with the controversial three-month proposal.
Independent Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, last week sent a request to the NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research, Brad Hazzard, asking him to promptly review guidelines regarding blood donation.
“Current guidelines prohibiting cohorts including men who have had sex with other men in the past twelve months from donating blood is not supported by data and is discriminatory, reinforcing unfair myths, stereotypes and assumptions,” he wrote.
“I share community support for a non-discriminatory blood donation policy based on evidence.”