Blood Donation Wait May Be Cut for Gay Men in Australia

A proposed one-year study would assess whether gay men who are sexually abstinent for six months could safely donate blood in Australia. The trial, recommended by independent experts for the Australian Red Cross Blood Service in a recently released report, would involve about 100,000 donors and be conducted by ARCBS and the Kirby Institute for Infection.

Currently, gay male donors must have been sexually abstinent for one year when they present to donate blood, said Kathy Bowlen, an ARCBS spokesperson. The deferral is due to the fact that gay men have the highest number of new HIV infections, she said. Though gay activists have fought the one-year wait, "It has never been found to be discriminatory because we're required to rule people out on the basis of risk," she said.

A quarter of blood donors between 2005 and 2010 who tested positive for transmittable infections had not disclosed risk factors that would have made them ineligible. New tattoos and travel to areas with malaria were among the many risks donors did not mention, Bowlen said.

"It could be that people forget certain timelines or instances ... we're asking people to remember specific things relating to exposure," said Bowlen.

During its review of deferral practices, the trial would weigh the accuracy of information provided by potential donors. The report will be evaluated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and relevant state and federal blood-regulators, Bowlen said.