Gay and bisexual men in England, Scotland, and Wales can now donate blood, plasma and platelets under certain circumstances, the National Health Service announced this week in a momentous shift in policy for most of the U.K.
Beginning Monday, gay men in sexually active, monogamous relationships for at least three months can donate for the first time. The move reverses a policy that limited donor eligibility on perceived risks of contracting HIV/AIDs and other sexually transmitted infections.
The new rules come as the U.K. and other countries around the world report urgent, pandemic-induced blood supply issues.
Donor eligibility will now be based on each person’s individual circumstances surrounding health, travel and sexual behaviors regardless of gender, according to the NHS. Potential donors will no longer be asked if they are a man who has had sex with another man, but they will be asked about recent sexual activity.
Anyone who has had the same sexual partner for the last three months can donate, the NHS said.
“Patient safety is at the heart of everything we do. This change is about switching around how we assess the risk of exposure to a sexual infection, so it is more tailored to the individual,” said Ella Poppitt, Chief Nurse for blood donation at NHS Blood and Transplant, in a statement. “We screen all donations for evidence of significant infections, which goes hand-in-hand with donor selection to maintain the safety of blood sent to hospitals.”
People who engage in anal sex with a new partner or multiple people or who have recently used PrEP or PEP (medication used to prevent HIV infection) will have to wait three months to donate – regardless of their gender.
Why did the U.K. make this change?
The NHS moved to alter its blood donation eligibility rules following a review by the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group. The panel determined an individualized, gender-neutral approach to determining who can donate blood, platelets, and plasma is fairer and still maintains the safety of the U.K.’s blood supply.
The findings were accepted in full by the government last December.
Researchers will continue to monitor the impact of the donor selection changes for the next 12 months to determine if more changes are needed, NHS said.
What is the policy in the U.S.?
Despite efforts by advocates to change regulations in the U.S, the ability for gay and bisexual men to donate blood is still restricted.
A ban on gay and bisexual blood donors has been in effect since the early 1980s when fears about HIV/AIDS were widespread.
The Food and Drug Administration’s current policy states a man who has sex with another man in the previous three months can’t donate. Federal rules previously made such donors wait 12 months before giving blood, but due to low blood supplies during the pandemic the federal government changed the policy in April.
The Red Cross said they are participating in a pilot study funded by the FDA using behavior-based health history questionnaires, similar to those used in the U.K.
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