Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) lifted a four-decade-old ban on blood plasma donations by gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men.
Currently, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, and trans women who have sex with men, have to abstain from sex for three months before donating blood, including plasma. The ban was put into place in the 1980s following the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Australia would be the first country in the world to implement the ‘plasma pathway’, claimed Australian Red Cross Lifeblood Service.
LGBTQI advocacy organisations, however, said Australia needs to follow the example of other countries which have lifted the blanket ban on blood donation by gay, bisexual and MSM.
Thomas Buxereau of Let Us Give, an organisation that is campaigning to lift the current gay blood ban in Australia, equated plasma pathway to “second-rate” civil unions.
The new Plasma Pathway approved by TGA, following submissions by the Australian Red Cross, removes questions regarding sexual activity when screening potential plasma donors.
This would allow a person to donate blood without any waiting period. The ‘plasma pathway’ will take effect, only after receiving approvals from the government and CSL Behring, the biopharmaceutical company, that makes plasma-derived, and recombination therapeutic products.
In March 2023, the Australian Red Cross approached the TGA to lift the plasma donor celibacy rules.
According to the Let Us Give campaign the ‘plasma pathway’ was “not the answer to shortages of whole blood or to discrimination in the blood donor system”.
“The plasma-only option fails to address the critical issues of whole blood shortages and of discrimination against gay men, and bisexual men and transgender women who have sex with men, in whole blood donation,” Buxereau said in a statement.
Revoke Gay Blood Ban
“Let Us Give has consistently called for Australia to drop the gay blood ban and adopt a system whereby all donors are assessed for their individual risk. Individual risk assessment removes discrimination and provides a new source of safe blood, which is why it has been adopted in an increasing number of countries including Canada, the UK and the US.”
“Only allowing plasma donation is to whole blood donation what civil unions were to marriage equality, a second-class option that fails to remove discrimination,” Buxereau.
Let Us Give researcher, Dr Sharon Dane called out the claim that Australia was the first country to approve the plasma pathway.
“A plasma policy was trialled in Canada and Israel, with both countries choosing to move to whole blood donation,” said Dr Dane.
“Limiting donations to just plasma was abandoned in those countries for a host of reasons, one of which is the discrimination inherent in ‘the plasma pathway’. Also, people becoming eligible will mainly be novice donors facing a lengthier donation process when donating plasma.”
“While donating plasma is undeniably important, restricting donations to just plasma for people classified as men who have sex with men is not a solution to the need for blood products,” said Dr Dane.