Lifeblood may remove sexual history questions for plasma donation

Equality advocates have responded to moves from The Australian Red Cross Lifeblood service to remove barriers for plasma donation from gay and bisexual men and some trans folks.

The proposed changes would remove questions about sexual activity from plasma donor assessments, though it would retain the three-month abstinence period for gay and bi men and many transgender people for whole blood donation.

“The plasma pathway potentially gives the greatest number of people across our population the opportunity to donate blood, and we would be the first in the world to do this,” Lifeblood chief Joanne Pink told NW Tasmanian Advocate.

“Plasma donations undergo additional processing steps which further reduce the risk of an infection being passed on to a patient, in addition to processes such as blood donation testing for HIV.”

Recently formed blood equality campaign Let Us Give say allowing blood plasma donation by men who have sex with men will not solve the problem of low supplies of whole blood and was abandoned in other countries that have since moved on to individual risk assessment for all blood donors.

“Lifting the current ban on plasma donation by gay and bisexual men, and trans women and some non binary people who have sex with men, will not solve the problem of Australia’s dangerously low supplies of whole blood,” Let Us Give spokesperson Thomas Buxereau said.

“If Australia adopts a new policy whereby all donors of whole blood are assessed for their individual risk regardless of the gender of their sexual partner, there will be an extra 25,000 litres of whole blood available to save the lives of Australians in need”.

“That is why an increasing number of countries, including Canada, the UK, France, the Netherlands and Israel, have dropped the current gender-related ban and adopted individual risk assessment instead.”

Researcher for Let Us Give, Dr Sharon Dane, called on Lifeblood to explain how its proposal for plasma collection will be any different to overseas LGBTQ+ plasma donation policies that were abandoned.

“Countries like Israel, Canada and France trialled plasma donation for gay men, but then quickly abandoned that approach in favour of whole blood donation,” Dr Dane says.

“In the Israeli, Canadian and French trials, plasma from gay donors was quarantined and frozen for three to four months so the donor could return and be tested for HIV. For a variety of reasons, many donors could not return in that timeframe and their plasma had to be dumped.”

“We call on Lifeblood to explain how plasma collection in Australia will be any less wasteful than in other countries.”

Also speaking to NW Tasmanian Advocate, HIV activist and co-founder of the Institute of Many, Nic Holas, says that it’s fantastic to see Lifeblood making changes, adding that allowing men who have sex with men to donate whole blood “is a little bit premature at the moment”.

“We’re seeing a lot less Australian-born gay and bisexual men getting HIV now,” Holas said.

“But it’s going up in international students and it’s going up in the heterosexual community and it’s going up in Indigenous communities.”

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure other communities don’t get left behind.”

Dr Dane and the Let Us Give campaign disagreed with Holas’ assessment on opening up donation, urging for a move towards individual risk assessment.

“Nic Holas is right about the relative infection rates of different demographic groups in Australia but his conclusion about keeping the current blood donor restrictions is wrong,” Dr Dane said.

“Decreasing HIV infections among gay men and increasing infections among other demographic groups including heterosexuals, means that, to keep the blood supply as safe as possible, Australia should individually assess the risk of all donors regardless of the gender of their sexual partner.”

OIP Staff

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