Ireland has softened rules that permanently banned men who have sex with men from donating blood.
Until this week, the Republic of Ireland continued to enforce rules introduced at the height of the AIDS crisis, which stipulate that men who have sex with men (MSM) are banned for life from giving blood.
A number of countries have relaxed or altered the regulations in recent years to reflect modern screening technology, and following a review from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service Board, the ban was lifted today.
Under the new rules, sexually active gay men remain banned from giving blood, but are permitted to do so if they abstain from sex for 12 months.
Health Minister Simon Harris said “The IBTS provides a safe, reliable and robust blood service to the Irish health system and has the necessary programmes and procedures in place to protect both donors and recipients of blood and blood products. Furthermore, the IBTS will continue to keep all deferral policies under active review in the light of scientific evidence, emerging infections and international experience.”
“Only 3% of the eligible population of Ireland are active blood donors – yet 1 in 4 people will require a blood transfusion at some time in their lives.”
“In June of last year, I accepted the recommendations of the IBTS to change their blood donation deferral policies for men who have sex with men, as well as for donors who have had a sexually transmitted infection.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the IBTS for their work over the past 6 months which today sees these recommendations brought to fruition within the timescale agreed.
The minister explained that the policy brings Ireland into line with the policy of the UK, Canada and other countries.
However, it falls short of standards implemented in some other countries, where donors are screened based on individual risk, and people are not excluded if they are in a monogamous same-sex relationship.
US-based campaigner Jay Franzone of the National Gay Blood Drive explained: “This approach is used successfully in Italy and Spain, among other nations.
“In Italy, donors are asked to refrain from giving blood if they have been involved in sexual activities that have a high risk of H.I.V. transmission.
“Spain asks donors if they have engaged in specific risky sexual behavior in the last six months. Merely being gay is not grounds for automatic deferral in those countries.
“All potential donors, regardless of race, age, creed or the gender of their sexual partners, should be questioned about any risky sexual behaviour.