THE ban on British gay men giving blood is to be lifted, government ministers revealed Sunday, with the provision that potential donors have not had sex for the past 10 years.
Anne Milton, the public health minister, was expected to announce the move soon following concerns that the existing blanket ban is discriminatory and could breach equality laws. Gay men who are or have been sexually active are currently banned from donating to ensure that blood contaminated with HIV does not reach patients.
A similar ban on donations from gay men is also in operation in the United States, while the Canadian blood service recently reviewed its policy of banning sexually active gay men from donating blood and decided not to lift the ban. In New Zealand there is a 10-year deferral policy, while South Africa has a five-year time limit.
The British government was instructed on the move by Sabto, the advisory committee on the safety of blood, tissues and organs. It found that if the ban was replaced by a new rule preventing gay men from giving blood for five years after having sex with another man, the risk of HIV reaching the blood supply would go up by less than 5 percent. It is estimated that this figure would halve if the “deferral” period were increased to 10 years.
The current blood donation system is based on trust and there is no policing to ensure that donors abide by restrictions. As a result, at least 7 percent of sexually active gay men give blood despite a ban. Gay men are the group most at risk of passing on HIV in blood, followed by intravenous drug users.
A tiny number of infected donations are missed despite routine screening, because there is a short period after infection before a test will show a positive result.
Gay rights campaigners argued for years for a lifting of the ban, saying many gay men are in monogamous relationships, practice safe sex or are celibate.
A British government source said, “A complete ban is unfair and discriminatory but we need to protect public health, so the 10-year rule is what is being considered.”