US health authorities have lifted a prohibition on gay and bisexual men giving blood, and there are calls for NZ to follow.
Instead of a blanket ban, which has been slammed as being discriminatory, the plan is for all donors to be asked the same, more targeted questions about their recent sexual activity.
“The implemenation of these recommendations will represent a significant milestone for the agency and the LGBTQI+ community,” said Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.
“The FDA is committed to working closely with the blood collection industry to help ensure timely implementation of the new recommendations and we will continue to monitor the safety of the blood supply once this individual risk-based approach is in place.”
In New Zealand all sexually active gay and bisexual men are prevented from donating blood, and there are calls for that to change.
“We really support the FDA decision it moves the US more in line with the UK and Canada,” said Associate Professor Peter Saxton, an expert in Public Health.
“Effectively it means everybody is asked the same questions – previously gay and bisexual men were singled out and typically deferred from donating blood,” he said.
“The New Zealand Blood Service wants to improve that policy, but it’s lacked the evidence to do so.”
He said countries typically moved slowly changing blood donation policy, as it was important to keep the blood supply safe but also be more inclusive for those wanting to donate blood.
New research in New Zealand, which involved surveying almost 4,000 people, had found that four out of five gay or bisexual men were interested in donating blood, and most believed their blood was safe, but about three quarters of them felt the current policy in New Zealand was discriminatory and unfair.
“What they’ve told us is for them donating blood is an important way to contribute to society,” said Saxton.
“Ultimately, we want a blood supply that’s safe for recipients, sufficient for our needs as a country, but more inclusive for those who want to donate blood.”
He said he wanted to see a policy shift in the next 12 months.
“We’ve got the international evidence now; we’ve got local data.”
The NZ Blood Service's Transfusion Medicine Specialist, Gavin Cho, said he recognised this was an important issues for many New Zealanders.
"As more countries move to a deferral criteria based on individual behaviours it will increase the body of evidence necessary for New Zealand Blood Service to make an informed recommendation to Medsafe about changes to our own donor behaviour deferral criteria," he said.
Cho said the NZ Blood Service had been working with the New Zealand based research team on its study.
"Our hope is the results of this study will provide vital evidence-based New Zealand data that will also help inform our future recommendations."