Alex Crowe

Lifeblood to allow gay men to donate blood more easily | The Canberra Times

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Gay men’s sexual behaviour will soon have less of an impact on their ability to give blood after an Australian Red Cross pitch to cut red tape. Laws preventing men who’ve had sex with men from donating will change from a 12 months’ abstinence requirement to three months following a submission from Lifeblood to the Australian regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Lifeblood initially proposed postponement to three months for whole blood. It then provided a further submission to include plasma and platelet donations. “We’re pleased that the TGA has approved our submissions to reduce the postponements for whole blood, plasma and platelet donations to three months and can report that our proposal has been agreed to by all Australian governments,” a Lifeblood spokesperson said. A spokesperson for ACT Health said the TGA has advised that consideration of this regulatory change was required by all Australian governments and, accordingly, this work is underway in the ACT. “The ACT government is working through the implications of this TGA decision,” the spokesperson said. “The area undertaking this work is the same area responsible for our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unavoidably, this has affected the speed of the process somewhat.” Advisory body scientists and medical professionals, alongside recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Biologicals, determined the 12-month deferral period for donors whose sexual practices put them at increased risk of blood, cell or tissue transmission infected diseases was unnecessary. The deferral period is applied to donor groups Lifeblood identified as high risk, including sex workers and homosexuals. Lifeblood flagged those groups as a higher risk for transmissions of viral infections, HIV, the virus causing AIDS, of particular concern. Restrictions exist despite a national campaign to address blood donation shortages which has requested more than 800 donors come forward in the ACT over the next two weeks. ANU Queer* Department’s Vincent Li said while the reduction from 12 months to three is a move in the right direction any time limitation still felt queerphobic. “The policy dated back to the 1980s to the AIDS crisis around the better part of the world,” he said. Mr Li said advancements in research and technology now allowed Lifeblood to screen for HIV and Hepatitis. “If you’re already going to do those two screenings which you have an irrational fear that queer man might be more likely to be exposed to, why are you putting three month abstinence in place?” The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations Chief Executive Officer Darryl O’Donnell said the decision better aligned blood donation policy with science. “The previous 12-month deferral period was excessive,” Mr O’Donnell said. Mr O’Donnell noted the deferral did not yet apply to people who use the HIV prevention medicine pre-exposure prophylaxis. “The widespread use of PrEP outside clinical trials is relatively recent and there hasn’t been enough real-world data at this stage to support a shorter deferral period for PrEP users. We’re continuing to work closely with Lifeblood on this issue and will advocate for a lower deferral as soon as evidence allows,” he said. Lifeblood has been deferring donors who declare a history of male to male sex since the mid-1980s. The current 12 month deferral period was introduced in 2000 and was considered liberal. Over the past few years, a number of international regulators have moved to reduce deferral periods for donors with high risk sexual practices, based on accumulating scientific evidence. READ MORE: In November 2017, the United Kingdom began moving from 12 to three months for deferrals for all sexual activity-based risks including male-to-male sex. Canada and the United States also reduced the blood donation waiting period for men who have sex with men from one year to three months in 2019 and 2020. The deferral period for high-risk sexual practices in New Zealand remains at 12 months.

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