Equality advocates will today ask the Red Cross Blood Service and the federal government to lift the restrictions on gay blood donation, to ensure Australia has an adequate supply during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move comes after the US Food and Drug Administration eased its restrictions by reducing the period gay men must abstain from sex before donating from a year to three months.
The Australian Red Cross Blood Service currently refuses donations from men who have had sex with men in the past 12 months.
Experts have predicted a blood shortage as early as mid-April because many regular donors are self-isolating or fearful of infection.
Just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome said that allowing donations from sexually active gay men would increase the supply of blood for those in need.
“We call on the Australian Government to go further than the United States by removing the existing ban altogether,” he said.
Croome said that the risk of passing on viruses such as HIV through blood donation was unrelated to gay sex as such.
“The risk is reduced further by preventative treatments like PrEP,” he said.
“There are thousands of gay men across Australia [without HIV] whose desire to help has never been greater.
“Let’s allow them to give the gift of life before it’s too late and the blood shortage bites.”
Nic Holas, co-founder of HIV organisation The Institute of Many, welcomed the US change and said he hoped Australia would follow.
“The 12-month deferral has no scientific basis, whereas a three-month deferral period makes a lot more sense when it comes to balancing public health concerns,” he said.
“As frustrating as the blood deferral might be for HIV-negative gay men, it remains an inconvenient truth that gay and bi men, and trans women, are still at a statistically higher risk of acquiring HIV.
“Hopefully it won’t be long until we reach that goal, and then HIV-negative gay men can donate all the blood they want.”
Croome suggested a higher level of testing of blood donated by gay men could help ease concerns.
“Because this would be a new policy, we would be happy for the Red Cross to apply extra clinical testing to blood donated by gay men to ensure there is no risk to blood recipients,” he said.
“At a time of crisis like this, we can’t allow old prejudices to get in the way of saving lives.”
Croome said the deferral period for gay men to give blood is a hangover from the 1980s when HIV transmission was poorly understood, tests were less reliable, and being gay was synonymous with having AIDS.