Sexual health and gay charities welcome lift on lifetime gay blood ban

Publish Date: 08/09/2011

The government have announced that the rule regarding the eligibility of gay and bisexual men to donate blood has changed.

There will no longer be a lifetime ban, but a one year deferral if sexually active - that means gay or bisexual men who have had oral or anal sex with a man in the last 12 months still cannot.

The changes will apply in England, Scotland and Wales, the ban remains in Northern Ireland where research is still being carried out.

The National LGB&T Partnership, comment (The Lesbian & Gay Foundation,  LGBT Consortium, ELOP, London Friend, GMFA, TREC, PACE, Derbyshire Friend, Yorkshire Mesmac, GADD, GIRES and  Stonewall Housing.)

“The Partnership is committed to reducing health inequalities, and challenging homophobia and transphobia within public services, so we welcome today’s landmark decision to end the lifetime gay blood ban.

However, the new policy still means that gay or bisexual men who have had oral or anal sex with a man in the last 12 months cannot donate blood.

The report by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) which has prompted these changes, found that the introduction of a 12 month deferral would maintain the safety of the blood supply, and bring the criteria for men who have sex with men in line with those for other groups that are at an increased risk of carrying blood-borne infections.

Gay and bisexual men, as a group, are at higher risk of acquiring some blood borne infections (such as HIV or Hepatitis B) than the majority of the UK.  The priority of the National Blood Service is to prevent blood containing HIV or other blood-borne viruses from being passed on.

Gay and bisexual men are determined to change the situation by working to reduce the level of blood borne virus within the gay community.

New figures released by the Health Protection Agency this month have highlighted that gay and bisexual men are at the greatest risk, with the largest ever number of new recorded cases of HIV in 2010.

The Partnership is committed to raising awareness of safer sex and HIV testing within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGB&T) community. Condoms and lube still provide the best possible defence against HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI’s), and it is vital that all gay and bisexual men know their HIV status and attend regular sexual health checks – many which offer a vaccination for Hepatitis B.

More investment is needed in prevention work to ensure current services can continue to promote sexual health within LGB&T communities.

Increased awareness around sexual health, will lead to earlier diagnoses of HIV and other STI’s and a reduction in HIV transmissions.

Gay and bisexual men can donate blood stem cells and bone marrow, however people with HIV cannot.  Also, there are no restrictions preventing HIV negative gay men from donating organs.

Today’s changes are a step in the right direction, but as a community we must work together for a reduction in HIV and Hepatitis B cases, to ensure when the next review comes around we are no longer an at risk group and see full equality. “

Carl Burnell, Chief Executive of GMFA the gay men’s health charity, comments:

"The removal of the ban to a one year deferral is great news but it’s going to leave some gay men frustrated that they still can’t donate blood. However the one year deferral is based on scientific evidence to ensure the safety of the blood supply in relation to hepatitis B and HIV. Gay men can play their part in ensuring the UK has a safe supply of blood for everyone, including gay men, by adhering to the one year deferral.

It will be news to most that hepatitis B, rather than HIV has kept the deferral period to one year. Hepatitis B is completely preventable if you get vaccinated against it, and I’d urge all gay men to do so. If all gay men get vaccinated against Hepatitis B, and prevalence of hepatitis B falls in our community as a result, it would be appropriate to re-examine the evidence and reduce the deferral period even further.!"

Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of NAT (National AIDS Trust), comments:

"The lifetime ban on gay men donating blood has been at the centre of much controversy and debate in recent years, particularly as it became clear that this rule and current science were completely out of sync.

NAT was instrumental in securing a proactive, time-based review of the present lifetime bans on blood donation and we are delighted to see the review’s recommendations for change being implemented.

This decision is now based on evidence and the safety of the blood supply will be maintained.  However, we are adamant that this decision will need to be reviewed again in the future as science and the HIV epidemic evolves, and new evidence emerges.  We must ensure that changes in these areas are proactively monitored so that we avoid having out-dated rules in place that do not benefit the public and instead simply discriminate against certain groups."

Sir Nick Partridge, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), comments:

"We welcome this decision, which is based on strong new evidence that all the experts are agreed on. These regulations will ensure the safety of the blood supply for all of us while also being fair and equal in their application. We can now detect blood-borne viruses earlier and have more understanding of them, and the change reflects that.

The remaining deferral regulation for sexually active gay men is based on their heightened risk, as a group, of sexually acquired blood-borne viruses. Changing that depends on reducing gay men's risk of HIV and other STIs to the same level as the rest of the population, and re-emphasising the vital importance of safer sex as far too many gay men still become infected with HIV each year. We will continue to campaign to improve gay men's sexual health to a level where the regulations can be the same for all, regardless of sexuality."

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall Chief Executive comments:

"We recognise this move as a step in the right direction and we welcome undertakings from the National Blood Service that they will in future treat gay people with greater courtesy than they’ve often done in the past. We also welcome the fact that those HIV charities which doggedly supported the ban until recently have revised their position.

However, Stonewall will continue to push for a donation system based on the real risks a potential donor poses. People wanting to donate blood should be asked similar questions - irrespective of their sexual orientation - that accurately assess their level of risk of infection. Sadly, the proposed new system will still fail to do this.”

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