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Gay blood donation change approved by health regulator

Australia’s policy on limiting blood donation from gay and bisexual men is set to change, allowing more donors to save lives.

The Australian Red Cross has announced that the Therapeutical Goods Administration (TGA) has approved its submission to reduce the deferral period for donors after gay sex from a year to three months.

The news follows years of lobbying from the LGBTIQ community and a “comprehensive review” by an expert committee that began in 2012.

The Australian Red Cross Blood Service said it “would like to make it easier for all Australians to give blood, while ensuring Australia’s blood and blood products are as safe as possible for blood recipients”.

Nic Holas, co-founder of HIV organisation The Institute of Many, recently said he hoped Australia would follow the US in relaxing blood donation rules.

“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.

“Thankfully, we’re seeing those numbers drop due to U=U and PrEP, but until we end HIV, we have to keep focused.

“Hopefully, it won’t be long until we reach that goal, and then HIV-negative gay men can donate all the blood they want.”

The Australian Red Cross Blood Service said its review process has considered factors such as condom use and PrEP in determining the safety of accepting donations from gay and bisexual men.

Rodney Croome of LGBTIQ advocacy group Just.Equal said the new guidelines still excluded most gay men from donating because of the required three-month period of celibacy.

He called the change “window dressing to make a bad policy look better”.

“A three-month celibacy rule for gay blood donation is such a weak and ineffective response to the pandemic even the Trump administration has adopted it,” Croome said.

“At a time of crisis when blood shortages are looming, it is vital that all Australians who are not at risk of passing on blood-borne [viruses] are able to donate, including those gay men who are not at risk.”

With the change approved by the TGA, the federal and state and territory governments will now decide whether to enact it.

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