Critical Blood Shortage Sparks New Calls To Drop Restrictions On Gay Donors

Gay Australians have responded to a “critical” new appeal by the Red Cross Blood Service for O-type blood, saying they’d be happy to donate – if they were allowed to do so. 

The Blood Service says their stocks of O-type blood – including the universally acceptable Type O negative – are likely to dwindle to just two days’ supply, as potential donors may be forced to postpone their appointments due to cold and flu in the winter months. 

They’re asking for around 8,000 extra donors to step up, but healthy men with O-Type blood have used the news to question current policies which restrict them from donating.

PEDESTRIAN.TV spoke about the issue with Luke McCarthy of Let Us Donate, a new student-run campaign focused on changing the way authorities respond to male blood donors who have sex with other men. 
In his eyes, the problem is clear. McCarthy flat-out said “they’re not letting queer people help, when that’s all we want to do.”
McCarthy outlined the personal impact of the issue by recalling the experience of a gay male acquaintance. The man, who himself has O-Type blood, underwent surgery; McCarthy said that at the time, doctors had difficulties securing blood supplies for the procedure.
“If someone else was in his situation and needed that blood, even though now he’s healthy, he’s safe, he’s someone who in every way should be able to give his blood to people in need of it, he couldn’t do it,” McCarthy said.

“And he was so thankful to get that blood and be as healthy as he is now, but because he is a gay man, he hasn’t been afforded that opportunity [to donate].”
As it stands, the Red Cross Blood Service follows the guidelines of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). They mandate that anyone who engages in male-to-male sex, with protection or not, wait twelve months after last having male-to-male sex before they can donate blood.
The Blood Service says that logic is based on the increased rates of HIV infection among those who practice male-to-male sex, and the need to ensure potential donors are HIV negative before donating.
via Red Cross Blood Service.

However, Let Us Donate argues that the twelve month deferral period is needlessly long, given that organisations like the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre state the ‘window period’ for accurately detecting HIV infections first opens anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks after sex. 

McCarthy believes that indefinitely excluding anyone who regularly engages in male-to-male sex from donating  – and barring them for months after they could expect to receive an accurate HIV test result based on their last sexual contact – is “off-putting, discriminatory, and untrusting of the LGBT community in Australia.”
The issue is compounded in times when the Blood Service is desperate for donations – so, times like right now. McCarthy said “there are so many gay men who want to be able to donate blood, and want to be able to help people.

“And if there is O-Type blood that needs to be given, then there are queer men right now who have the blood that the Red Cross needs that can’t do it – even though in every way, in health, in lifestyle, they should be able to do so.”
Here’s the kicker: in 2012, the Blood Service adopted a submission by a panel of experts, suggesting that the deferral period actually be lowered to six months, but the TGA knocked that one back. Now, the Blood Service is gearing up for another review of their practices later this year.
A Blood Service spokesperson told PEDESTRIAN.TV the review will seek input from epidemiologists, international authorities, and a whole slew of other relevant stakeholders, and that they believe “Australia’s blood donation rules should be based on the most reliable and recent evidence.”
“Ideally, we would like to make it easier for more Australians to give blood,” the spokesperson said.
“It is our challenge to do this while fulfilling our obligation to keep blood and blood products as safe as possible for patients.”
If the upcoming review finds that currently practices can be safely amended – and if the TGA takes heed of those findings – gay men might just be able to help out more readily.

That’d be mighty handy, especially during blood shortages in flu seasons to come. 

Photo: Joern Pollex / Getty.

If you’d like to catch up on the Red Cross Blood Service’s current guidelines for potential donors who engage in male-to-male sex, you can do so right HERE.