Review for rule restricting gay men from donating blood

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The restrictions on gay men mean they don't feel the connection of saving someone's life.

The Australian Red Cross is reviewing the restriction that bars gay men around Australia from donating blood unless they abstain from sex for a year.

The restriction, introduced in 1996, means homosexuals that are healthy and willing to help the cause, cannot.

Lucky Antonopoulos, a 28-year-old gay man, says the constraints on his community feel out-dated.

“I’m sure there are ways of reducing the risks. At the time that the 12-month restriction was placed, it could have been that the technology wasn’t as good as it is today,” he says.

“Times have changed and so has technology.”

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were more than 23,700 male same-sex couples recorded in the 2016 census – De Facto and Husband titles combined. Of this total, none were eligible to donate blood unless they had not engaged in sexual activity for a year.

Source: ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016.

Alexa can’t donate blood because she’s had sex with men who have engaged in sexual activities with other men in the past year. She says she feels “like some kind of less-than”.

“I feel useless … the Red Cross keeps telling us there’s a crisis, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” she says.

Alexa is not alone, thousands of people who are ineligible to donate are forced to ignore call outs for donors.

Erin Lagoudakis, a Blood Service spokesperson, says despite these excluded thousands, there are still many that can donate.

“Modelling shows us around nine million Australians are eligible to donate, but only half a million do,” Lagoudakis says. But the Blood Service is optimistic those eligible will help when needed most.

“The Australian public are fantastic and respond well [to] a call out.”

The sexual activity deferral that disheartens hopeful gay male donators is under review.  The Australian Red Cross Blood Service is hoping to lower the restriction to six months, pending the review outcome.

The long process hinges on upholding the safety of the recipients of blood, and the donors. The review committee and its recommendations go through five stages. This process was inconsequential in the last attempt, in 2012.

An Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) spokesman says the review is needed, as new evidence is available.

“AFAO is working closely with the Australian Red Cross Blood Service to examine current evidence and make recommendations for the future,” the spokesman says.

Tyler Hughes: “I would very much like to donate… I stopped once I became sexually active, because of the restrictions”

Many countries, such as France, have a history of deaths due to HIV positive blood being distributed, which may have an affect on Australia’s rules. Tyler Hughes, a 25-year-old gay man, says he understands the controlled nature of Australia’s Blood Service.

“From my understanding, STIs are more prominent among gay males, and so I would expect more restrictions for the safety of the patients receiving the blood,” he says.

Hughes trusts medical professionals would only rely on evidence.

“I don’t see a group of doctors making a decision based purely on unanimous homophobia,” he says.

Time will tell if the thousands who are ready and willing, will get their chance.

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