Irish refuse to lift blood ban
Last month the UK’s government gave us hope; this month the Irish government dashed it.
The lifetime ban on gay men giving blood was lifted in the UK after a team of experts said it was no longer required to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS through blood.
The change – agreed on by health ministers in England, Scotland and Wales – means men who have not had sex with another man in the previous 12 months can donate blood from November, as long as they have not taken part in other behaviour that might constitute a risk to patients receiving blood. The one-year window was put in place to screen against hepatitis B or C.
The ban would remain in place for men who have had anal or oral sex with another man in the preceding 12 months, with or without a condom.
It is one step toward equity, but it is a step the Irish government is not willing to take. Apparently scientific evidence is not good enough for them.
The Guardian reports that the Irish health minister, Edwin Poots, said the ban in Northern Ireland would not be lifted.
Poots confirmed Ireland’s stance in a written answer, saying, “The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) has confirmed that the risk of HIV infection would, although by a small margin, increase as a result of a relaxation in the present lifetime deferral.”
Needless to say, Poots has come under attack for the decision, which has been described as“irrational prejudice.” But he is not willing to back down. TheBBCquotes Poots as saying, “Safety must be my primary concern and I want to ensure public confidence in our blood supply.”
In an interview, Poots cited Canada as one of the countries where the lifetime ban remains. Ouch.
Canadian Blood Services (CBS) currently bans any man who has had sex with another man since 1977, but that could be changing as well. Most blood organizations are reviewing their deferral policies primarily because there are now better tests for detecting the HIV virus.
Only time will tell if Canada will follow the example of the UK or partner with Ireland in maintaining archaic and discriminatory policies, but at least CBS is open to the idea of changing.
A recent statement on the CBS website says, “Canadian Blood Services continually reviews our donor eligibility policies and remains open to considering a change to the MSM deferral policy. It is important to note that Health Canada has final decision-making authority in terms of changes to any policy. As such, it will require scientific data -- upon which the medical community and regulatory authorities can agree -- that demonstrate there will be no added risk to patients, to inform the road forward.”
Let's get on that road and move forward.