Since the HIV/AIDS crisis started in the 1980s, men who have had sex with men have been barred from donating blood in an attempt to stop STD transmission. On June 14, 2021, the UK redefined the parameters for gay and bisexual men donating blood. The new system assesses eligibility to donate blood on an individual basis rather than assigning risk to an entire social group, reports The Washington Post.
The new National Health Service rules still don’t apply to anyone who has had multiple sexual partners or anal sex with a new partner within the past three months, as well as anyone with known STD exposure or who takes the HIV prevention medication Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).
According to The Washington Post, a two-year study was performed by British blood services and LGBTQIA+ groups and the results inspired the National Health Service to update the policy on blood donations. The new NHS guidance says, “donors will no longer be asked if they are a man who has had sex with another man. Instead, any individual who intends to give blood, regardless of gender, will be asked if they have had sex and, if so, about recent sexual behaviours”.
Due to Covid-19, there has been a decline in blood donations and this has inspired international shifts in policy in the UK, the US and Australia. As of April 2020, the American Food And Drug Administration (FDA) now requires a three-month deferral period for men who have sex with men if they want to donate blood. As of January 31, 2021, the Australian deferral period has also dropped from a year down to three months.
Over the decades, LGBTQIA+ advocacy groups have been vocal in their disapproval of the bans on gay and bisexual men donating blood. According to The Washington Post, The Human Rights Campaign believes the screening process in the US is less focussed on risk assessment than it is on a discriminatory practice aimed at membership of a group.
In an example provided by the Human Rights Campaign, a man who has in oral sex with another man within a three month window would be banned from donating blood. However, a woman who has had unprotected sex with multiple partners over the same time frame, with no knowledge of their personal histories remains in the donor pool.
The updated National Health Service policy on blood donation signposts a shift away from discriminatory bans and towards regulated, risk-based assessments. This is a significant step forwards for the LGBTQIA+ community and away from the stigmatisation of men who have sex with men.