The Australian Red Cross has announced an independent review of its ban on sexually active gay and bisexual men giving blood regardless of behaviour.

Under the current policy men who have had anal or oral sex with men are banned from donating blood for 12 months even if they were using condoms within a committed relationship. Heterosexuals having unsafe sex with multiple partners face no such restriction as long as they believe those partners were not from an elevated risk group.

The review committee will be chaired by Professor Steve Wesselingh, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University.

The committee will be comprised of an infectious disease physician, an immunologist, an advocate for people with haemophilia, an ethicist, an epidemiologist, a public health clinician, a representative of blood donors, a representative of people with HIV/AIDS and a representative from the gay and lesbian community.

People selected for these roles will have to be approved by both the Blood Service and Professor Wesselingh.

Members of the public and stakeholder organisations will be invited to make submissions to the committee. The committee will  draft a discussion paper based on these submissions and relevant medical and scientific literature.

A finalised paper will then be reviewed by lawyers to ensure recommendations are consistent with Australian law, and forwarded to the CEO of the Blood Service for the consideration of its board.

Any changes the Red Cross makes as a result would then need to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Michael Cain, a gay man who took the Red Cross to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Tribunal in 2008 over the ban, welcomed the review.

“I will be making the case that being allowed to donate blood should depend on the safety of your sexual activity not the gender of your partner,” Cain said.

“Statistical modelling from Australia and studies from countries where gay blood donation is allowed all point to the same conclusion — the risk to the blood supply is from unsafe sex not gay sex. By excluding gay men who practise safe sex, the Red Cross is denying much-needed safe blood to those in need, at times when blood stocks are dwindling.”

The Tasmanian ADT did not overturn the ban for legal reasons but found, “the risk of HIV transmission posed by the low risk sub-group of … men who have sex with men [is] substantially lower than the MSM group as a whole”, and “the relative risk of this low risk group is much closer to the relative risk of other groups tolerated by the donor deferral policy than previously acknowledged”.

info: To find out how to make a submission, visit www.bloodrulesreview.com.au

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