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Review of blood donation discrimination does not go far enough

in AUSTRALIA, 24/05/2012

An Australian Red Cross review of blood donations rules does not go far enough to end discrimination against gay men, campaigners say.

Campaigners who want to change Australia’s discriminatory blood donation rules for gay men say a review by the Australian Red Cross does not go far enough.

The newly published review recommends that the time gay men have to abstain from sex before giving blood be reduced from 12 to six months.

The Tasmania Gay and Lesbian Rights Group said that if the new recommendations are introduced the majority of gay men will still be unable to give blood.

Micheal Cain is legally challenging blood donation discrimination by taking a case before the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Tribunal. He said:

‘Like most gay men I will still not be able to donate under the proposed policy, even though I have a far, far lower risk of catching HIV than many heterosexual people who can currently donate.

‘The only way to remove discrimination from blood donation and increase the pool of safe blood from donors such as myself is to adopt a policy which screens all donors for the safety of their sexual activity rather than the gender of their partner.’

Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group’s Rodney Croome said the Australian Red Cross’s review was flawed because it draws data about rates of HIV among gay men from studies done in sex venues and bars.

‘Experts who appeared in Michael Cain's case made it clear that the data upon which the current ban is based only takes into account people with high HIV risk and ignores the vast bulk of gay men who are at much lower risk,’ said Croome. ‘It’s extremely disappointing that the review has replicated this mistake. The only way to resolve this issue is for the Government to commission a truly independent review.’

The Australian Red Cross’s review calls for a further year-long study of 100,000 donors to ascertain the accuracy of the information people give before giving blood.

Spokesperson for the Australian Red Cross Kathy Bowlen told AAP that the current rules around blood donation were not discriminatory. ‘It’s never been found to be discriminatory because we're required to rule people out on the basis of risk,' she said.

Bowlen said an earlier study showed that a quarter of blood donors between 2005 and 2010 whose blood contained transmissible infections had not been open about information that would have barred them from donating. She said providing accurate information was very important as blood screening does not pick up infections in their early stages.

The review will not be considered by the state and federal bodies that regulate blood donations.

Internationally, Japan and South Africa currently have a six month deferral for male donors who have sex with men. In the United States, Canada and much of Europe sexually active gay men cannot donate blood at all, while in the UK and Hungary, a one year deferral is in place.

‘The review's recommendations are not a step forward and leave me feeling really frustrated that the focus continues to be on my partner's gender rather than how safe we are,’ Cain concluded.

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