September 8, 2011
Most of the United Kingdom on Nov. 7 will end the lifetime ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men, a blanket exclusion enacted in the 1980s as a response to AIDS. The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SABTO) recently recommended permitting blood donations by MSM who are sexually abstinent for one year and meet certain other criteria. The health ministers of England, Scotland, and Wales have accepted the proposal.
Composed of experts and patient groups, SABTO's advisory committee said it could no longer support the permanent exclusion in light of the latest available evidence -- including risk of HIV transmission through the blood supply, potential donor compliance with the remaining eligibility criteria, and testing improvements.
Under current policy, certain individuals -- including women who have sex with MSM, the clients of sex workers, and the sex partners of injection drug users -- are deferred from giving blood for 12 months. The new policy will enforce a 12-month waiting period for any man who has had oral or anal sex with another man, with or without a condom. A lifetime ban remains in place for sex workers, drug injectors, and anyone diagnosed with syphilis, hepatitis B or C, or human T-lymphotropic virus.
Human rights activist Peter Tatchell welcomed the change as "a big improvement on the existing discriminatory rules." However, he said it remains "excessive and unjustified" to continue deferring as blood donors MSM who are always monogamous, practice safe sex and use condoms.
"Our blood service is carefully managed to maintain a safe and sufficient supply of blood for transfusions," said Anne Milton, parliamentary under-secretary of state for public health. "Appropriate checks based on robust science must be in place to maintain this safety record and the committee's recommendation reflects this."