Changes in criteria for blood donations


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Blood donation criteria are still of concern to the LGBTQ community, despite the lifting of the lifelong ban on gay men donating.


The director of Gay Switchboard Ireland, Adam Shanley, believes further changes must be made to the five year deferral policy for men who have sex with men (MSM) and have accessed HIV medication PrEP.


Mr Shanley said: “PrEP is a highly effective preventative measure against HIV – those accessing it should be applauded for protecting their sexual health instead of penalised.”


The Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) test all prospective blood donors for diseases including HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Approximately one in 10 people are deferred as a result of exposure to a virus.


Minister for Health Simon Harris approved the deferral of donors with a history of specific notifiable sexually transmitted infections for five years from completion of treatment alongside the lifting of the lifetime ban on MSM.


Commenting on the changes in policy Minister Harris said, “The IBTS provides a safe, reliable and robust service to the Irish health system and has the necessary programmes and procedures in place to protect both donors and recipients of blood and blood products.


“Furthermore, the IBTS will continue to keep all deferral policies under active review in the light of scientific evidence, emerging infections and international experience.”


Switchboard Ireland added: “We agree that the priority should be the safety of the blood supply that any of us may need at any time. Some of the deferral criteria is of concern however [and] should be reviewed alongside continued efforts to increase scientific knowledge and experience on removing the 12 month ban on MSM.”


The lifelong ban on gay men donating blood in Ireland was lifted by the government last year. A ban still remains if sexual contact between men has occurred within the 12 months before donation.


“[As a result of] the change to the question [of] MSM it is not possible to identify those who meet the deferral criteria and are MSM,” said IBTS communications manager Mirenda O’Donovan.


The IBTS donation application has been officially updated making it no longer possible to identify the amount of MSM who apply to become donors.


The ban, which was officially lifted on Monday 16 January, was imposed as a response to the emergence of HIV in the 1980s.


IBTS hosted an international symposium in April 2016 at which data was presented from countries that had changed their deferral criteria for MSM.


“Data showed there had not been an increase in HIV positive blood donations since the change in deferral policy,” said the IBTS.


It was concluded that international evidence had shown that a one-year deferral is equally as effective as a lifetime deferral from the point of view of protecting the blood supply against the risk of HIV transmission.


In relation to any further potential changes in policy in the future the IBTS says it “will closely monitor the effects of the current changes over the next few years in order to help ensure that blood safety is maintained.
“The IBTS will continue to work in this area and review its donor deferral policies to ensure they reflect the most up-to-date scientific knowledge.”

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