UK eases restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men in 'landmark change'
Health officials in the United Kingdom announced Monday that blood donation rules for gay and bisexual men will be relaxed next year in what the government called a "landmark change."
Under the new guidelines, which will take effect in summer 2021, donors who have had the same sexual partner for more than three months, have not been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection and are not using anti-HIV drugs PreP or PEP can donate "regardless of their gender, the gender of their partner, or the type of sex they have."
The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs, which advises U.K. health departments, recommended the changes after a report from the For Assessment of Individualised Risk steering group, a collaboration of U.K. blood services and LGBT charities, was published. The report proposed ending the blanket ban on men who have had sex with men within the last past three months.
“This landmark change to blood donation is safe and it will allow many more people, who have previously been excluded by donor selection criteria, to take the opportunity to help save lives,” Britain’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, said in a statement Monday.
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Officials emphasized that the change will have no effect on the safety of blood donated in the U.K., adding that blood services will monitor results of the change and develop a survey to get feedback from donors.
Ethan Spibey, founder of FreedomToDonate, has been campaigning to lift the restrictions for years and celebrated the announcement in a statement.
"This means the U.K. has one of the world’s most progressive blood donation policies and more people than ever will be able to safely donate for those who need it," Spibey said.
Michael Brady, medical director at Terrence Higgins Trust, also welcomed the change but acknowledged in the release that "there is certainly more work to do."
"We will continue to work to ensure that our blood donation service is inclusive, evidence based and both maximises the numbers who can donate while ensuring our blood supply is safe," he said.
Britain is one of many countries, including the United States, which have long restricted donations from gay and bisexual men and other groups in an attempt to prevent the spreading of HIV through the blood supply. LGBTQ activists have challenged these policies, saying that they are unnecessary given current testing technology and that they stigmatize gay and bisexual men.
Donated blood is screened for a number of infectious diseases, including HIV. The new coronavirus can’t be spread through blood.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April decreased the required abstinence period for male donors who have sex with men from 12 months to three months. The change, which also applied to people with recent tattoos and piercings, came in response to a drop in the nation’s blood supply triggered by the coronavirus outbreak.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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