What countries are lifting gay blood donation bans?

Tuesday, 3 October 2023 08:43 GMT

A man has blood platelets drawn at the American Red Cross Charles Drew Donation Center in Washington February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

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Gay and trans Indians are demanding the right to donate blood, calling for the country to follow others in scrapping blanket bans

By Hugo Greenhalgh 

Oct 3 (Openly) - LGBTQ+ activists in India are calling on the government to lift 1980s-era restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood in the wake of a string of countries scrapping bans due to COVID-related pressures on their blood supplies. 

This year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which administers the country's blood supply, removed restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood, following similar measures in Canada, France, Greece, Britain and Germany. 

The restrictions were often first put in place during the early years of the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic. 

Where are gay blood donation bans being removed or eased? 

In May, the U.S. FDA set guidelines for blood donation organisations, recommending they screen donors based on one set of criteria, ending a restriction that applied only to men who have sex with men and their female partners. 

A month earlier, Germany removed all references to sexuality and gender identity for prospective blood donors. 

However, LGBTQ+ activists said Germany's retention of a ban on anyone who had had anal sex with one new partner or more - of any gender - in the past four months potentially stigmatised gay and bisexual men. 

Last year, Greece lifted a decades-old ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood, while France scrapped rules requiring a year of abstinence from gay sex to donate. 

In 2021, Israel's then health minister Nitzan Horowitz, who himself is gay, lifted all restrictions on blood donations for gay and bisexual men. He posted a photo of himself giving blood shortly afterwards, writing, "our blood is equal". 

In September that year, the Netherlands dropped a four-month celibacy requirement. Men who have been in a monogamous same-sex relationship for at least a year can now donate, with officials considering easing rules for those without long-term partners. 

Belgium and Estonia have both recently shortened the periods that gay and bisexual men must abstain from sex before they are allowed to donate blood. 

Both countries have moved to a four-month deferral period following consultations with health professionals. 

Other countries that have lifted bans or eased restrictions in recent years include Hungary, Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovenia, Armenia, Austria and Brazil. 

Why are restrictions being lifted? 

Many countries introduced blood donation controls during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s when infected blood - much of which was donated by drug users and prisoners - contaminated supplies and put recipients at risk of infection. 

However, since then, technology to check blood for potential issues has improved, and donations are systematically screened for viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C. 

Some countries have dropped bars on gay and bi men giving blood entirely, with states such as Italy moving to individual risk-based assessments that treat gay and heterosexual people equally. 

Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ campaigners have decried bans and abstinence periods for gay and bi men as discriminatory, saying they reflect stigma and stereotypes rather than science. 

The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic also created pressure to drop sexuality-based bars on donations, after the cancellation of blood drives led to a drop in supplies. 

In April 2020, for example, the United States cut a 12-month waiting period for gay and bi men giving blood to three months, having reported a dramatic slump in donations. 

New Zealand and Australia made similar announcements in 2020, while Britain moved to a risk-based approach in 2021. 

Which countries are sticking with tough restrictions? 

Countries that still have lifelong bans on gay and bi men donating blood - and no current plans to lift them - include Singapore and Trinidad and Tobago. 

India, the world's most populous country, also bars donations by trans people, gay and bisexual men, and female sex workers - despite acute blood shortages. 

An LGBTQ+ activist filed a petition to the country's Supreme Court in 2021 that challenged the constitutional validity of two clauses of the blood donation policy, but the government has defended its guidelines, stating that they were based on scientific fact. 

This article was updated on October 3, 2023 at 09:00 GMT to take account of the most recent changes to blood donation rules. 

Related stories: 

Is it safe for gay men to donate blood? Here's what the science says 

US FDA eases restrictions on blood donation 

Germany's new rules on gay and bisexual men donating blood spark controversy 

(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh; Editing by Jon Hemming. Please credit Openly, the LGBTQ+ news website from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit https://www.openlynews.com/) 

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