The lifetime ban on blood donation by men who have had sex with men is expected to be lifted in the UK later today.
Since the 1980s AIDS crisis, gay men have been banned from donating blood because of the risk of HIV contamination.
Although blood is screened for HIV and other infections prior to being given to donors, there is a ‘window period’ since infection during which time it is not always possible to detect the presence of HIV.
In April, there were reports that the government was to propose lifting the ban on gay men donating blood who had not had sex for 10 years. The measures expected today are anticipated to have a window period, but a much shorter one.
Gay men are prevented from donating blood in a number of countries. In New Zealand, they can donate so long as they have not had gay sex for ten years. South Africa allows gay men to donate blood with a six month deferral. In Australia, Sweden and Japan it is one year.
In the UK, other at-risk groups including those who have been sexually active in high-risk countries are banned from donating blood for one year.
At a meeting of the UK government’s Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SABTO) in January, it was argued that “the evidence does not support the continuation of the ban… the evidence supports a 12-month deferral period since last occurrence be introduced for men who have had oral or anal sex with another man, whether a condom or other protective was used or not”.
The Terrance Higgins Trust, the UK’s largest HIV and sexual health charity states: “We believe any decision on the safety of the blood supply must be based on evidence and not on political lobbying or framing of it as purely an equalities issue.”