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International News

United Kingdom: National Health Service Ban on "High-Risk" Gay Men Donating Blood to Be Reviewed

October 27, 2009

Britain's longstanding lifetime ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men (MSM), a policy condemned as irrational by advocates, will be reviewed today in a meeting of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs.

The ban bars blood donations by any man who has ever had sex with another man, even if the encounter was many years ago and the potential donor has since tested negative for HIV. Women who have had sex with an MSM are also barred from donating.

All blood donations are tested for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B and C. Very recent infections, however, may not be detected -- a fact that health officials cite to support their use of restrictive donor selection criteria.

Gay rights advocates counter that the ban is unnecessary, and they say lifting it would boost blood supplies. Anticipating a shortfall due to the H1N1 pandemic, the National Health Service Blood and Transplant agency has issued a call for a 50 percent increase in blood donations.

Calling the policy review "long overdue," gay rights activist Peter Tatchell said, "The truth is that most gay and bisexual men do not have HIV and will never have HIV. Their blood is safe."

The HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust is taking a more cautious approach. "We believe that the current policy of the National Blood Service was based on the best available evidence when it was drawn up. Only when an expert review has re-evaluated risks to the safety of the blood supply should the current policy be changed in line with new evidence."

New Zealand, Spain, Italy, Japan, and Australia have recently dropped their lifetime bans and allow MSM, under certain circumstances, to donate blood.

Back to other news for October 2009

Adapted from:
Times (London)
10.27.2009; David Rose

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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