Transfusion medicine
2 min

Irish refuse to lift blood ban

BY NOREEN FAGAN Last month the UK’s government gave us hope; this
month the Irish government dashed it.

The lifetime ban on gay men giving blood was lifted in the UK after a team of experts said it
was no longer required to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS through blood.

The change – agreed on by health ministers in England, Scotland and Wales – means men who have
not had sex with another man in the previous 12 months can donate blood from
November, as long as they have not taken part in other behaviour that might constitute
a risk to patients receiving blood. The one-year window was put in place to
screen against hepatitis B or C.

The ban would remain in place for men who have had anal or oral sex with another man in the preceding 12
months, with or without a condom.

It is one step
toward equity, but it is a step the Irish government is not willing to
take. Apparently scientific evidence is not good enough for them.

The Guardian reports that the Irish health minister, Edwin Poots, said the ban in Northern Ireland would not be
lifted.

Poots confirmed
Ireland’s stance in a written answer, saying, “The Advisory Committee on the
Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) has confirmed that the risk of HIV
infection would, although by a small margin, increase as a result of a
relaxation in the present lifetime deferral.”

Needless to say,
Poots has come under attack for the decision, which has been described as
“irrational prejudice.” But he is not willing to back down. The
BBC
quotes Poots as saying, “Safety must be my primary concern and I want to ensure
public confidence in our blood supply.”

In an interview,
Poots cited Canada as one of the countries where the lifetime ban remains.
Ouch.

Canadian Blood
Services (CBS) currently bans any man who has had sex with another man since
1977, but that could be changing as well. Most blood organizations are
reviewing their deferral policies primarily because there are now better tests for
detecting the HIV virus.

Only time will
tell if Canada will follow the example of the UK or partner with Ireland in
maintaining archaic and discriminatory policies, but at least CBS is open to
the idea of changing.

A recent
statement on the CBS website says, “Canadian Blood Services continually
reviews our donor eligibility policies and remains open to considering a change
to the MSM deferral policy. It is important to note that Health Canada has
final decision-making authority in terms of changes to any policy. As such, it
will require scientific data — upon which the medical community and regulatory
authorities can agree — that demonstrate there will be no added risk to
patients, to inform the road forward.”

Let’s get on
that road and move forward.

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