UK eases curbs on blood donations for gay and bisexual men
LONDON — Eligibility rules were relaxed across Britain on Monday to allow more gay and bisexual men to donate life-saving blood, platelets, and plasma.
Under the changes, introduced on World Blood Donor Day, individuals will no longer be prevented from donating if they are a man who has sex with other men.
Instead, they will now be asked more tailored questions about their recent sexual behavior, health, and travel, before an individual infection risk assessment is made.
Those who have had the same sexual partner for the last three months will now be eligible to donate, NHS Blood and Transplant said.
NHSBT chief nurse Ella Poppitt said all donations are screened for evidence of significant infections, to ensure safety.
“All donors will now be asked about sexual behaviors which might have increased their risk of infection, particularly recently acquired infections,” she said.
“This means some donors might not be eligible on the day but may be in the future.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This is a fantastic step forward in making blood donation easier, fairer, and more inclusive.”
The founder of campaign group FreedomToDonate, Ethan Spibey, said the changes had created “one of the world’s most progressive blood donation policies”.
“This is more than just about a fairer and more inclusive system, it’s about those who rely on blood, and giving blood literally saves lives,” he added.
The chief executive of the National AIDS Trust, Deborah Gold, said it meant “more gay and bisexual men can donate blood safely” but it was only a first step.
“We now want to see other exclusionary criteria urgently reviewed so donors are asked questions that successfully identify higher risk, without unnecessarily excluding people or groups,” she added.
The Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity, said the changes were “much-needed” but did not go far enough.
It said the government had retained a “discriminatory question” which would act as a “significant barrier” to getting more black people to give blood.
A three-month deferral period will remain in place for anyone who has “a partner who has, or you think may have been, sexually active in parts of the world where HIV/AIDS is very common,” referencing “most countries in Africa.”
The question has been removed in Scotland and Wales, whose devolved governments set health policy, but not in England, the trust said.
“This barrier to the donation of blood and other blood products will perpetuate the health inequalities faced by black communities, including individuals from these communities who desperately need blood and other blood products,” it added.
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