Lifeblood: Changing rules around blood donations takes time

Lifeblood has responded to calls from the ‘Let Us Give’ campaign saying that the process to change to rules around blood donation takes time.

A spokesperson for Lifeblood told OUTinPerth that the organsiation is actively pushing for changes to the donation rules for plasma, which will prove a pathway for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men to participate in the donation program.

“Right now, Lifeblood is actively working on removing or reducing this rule for plasma donations. We want change on this rule too. This would potentially mean that anyone impacted by this rule would be able to donate.

“This process takes times, as it has in Canada (the process was started several years ago) – including research and evidence, regulatory approval, as well as approval from state and territory governments. We look forward to sharing updates when we have them.”

Lifeblood highlighted that plasma donations are needed by thousands of Aussies each week to fight cancer and kidney disease, to prevent critical bleeding in accidents and trauma, and to help those with immune and blood disorders to live normal lives.

When it comes to changing over to an individual assessment strategy though, Lifeblood said that option had been ruled out as recently as 2019.

“Individual assessments were considered by an expert review panel commissioned by Lifeblood in 2019 and found not to be the best option for Australia.” the spokesperson said.  “The main reason for this is maintaining the present high-safety threshold of Australia’s blood supply. We believe the plasma pathway achieves this. We are continuing to monitor changing HIV rates in Australia, and new evidence that supports changes to other blood donation types. Any change needs to maintain that high safety threshold.”

Lifeblood said moving to an individual assessment methodology would still leave many gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men inelligable as blood donors but would also probably reduce the number of heterosexual people able to give blood.

“Individual assessments do not allow everyone the opportunity to donate blood, preventing men on PrEP from donating, as well as those who have a new, or more than 1 sexual partner in the last three months.

“It also reduces eligibility within the heterosexual population, amongst people who are not at a high risk of exposure to new HIV.

Lifebook said there was no evidence that changing the rules to allow more gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, to donate would increase the overall level in blood donation in Australia.

“There is no evidence to support a boost to blood donations. Despite this, it is safety that underpins any changes to blood rules.” the spokesperson said.

While the Kirby Institute has recently shared level of new cases of HIV in Australia is rapidly dropping, Lifeblood says that there is still a high risk amongst people who may have been recently exposed to HIV.

“Lifeblood is pleased to see the impact of important public health measures, such as PrEP, on the number of newly acquired HIV infections during the pandemic.

“The present data on newly acquired infections still presents a risk to the blood supply as early infections are not able to be picked up by the best tests available. And as noted by Kirby, there were many factors specific to the pandemic that impacted the data, which means we have to wait to see if the trend continues.

“We hope to see a continued reduction in rates over the coming years. When data changes significantly, it empowers Lifeblood to make a case for change.” the spokesperson said.

Graeme Watson 

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