Changes to the discriminatory restrictions on blood donation rules for gay and bisexual men must be implemented immediately, amidst concerns of a severe blood supply shortage in the country, a Fine Gael Senator has said.
The Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) recently revealed that it is ‘closer than ever’ to declaring an amber alert under the Irish national blood shortage plan and has appealed for the public’s help in increasing blood supply levels.
Senator Jerry Buttimer said, “At a time when we are appealing to the public for their help in maintaining critical levels of much needed blood supply, our blood donation rules are also prohibiting a significant cohort of the population from even having the option of donating.
“I would encourage anyone who can to donate blood as a matter of priority. But in saying this, we must also acknowledge the reality that in Ireland today, men who have sex with men are subject to different donation rules than the rest of the population.
“While I welcome the IBTS’s recent announcement that they will implement changes to the donation policies, gay and bisexual men still face overly restrictive rules on donating blood.
“At the moment, a man who has had sex with another man in the past 12 months is not eligible to donate blood – regardless of whether he has used a condom or is taking the HIV medication PrEP.
“Not only are our current rules outdated, unfair and overly restrictive, they are also antithetical to the needs of the public at a time when blood supply levels are concerningly low.
“Under the IBTS’s plans to change donation policies, the current 12 month deferral period for men who have sex with men is to be reduced to four months while the existing Health and Lifestyle Questionnaire (HLQ) is to be replaced with an electronic Self-Assessment Health History (SAHH) questionnaire.
“We are yet to see the introduction of either of these changes.
“While I believe the decrease in the deferral period is due to be introduced at the end of this month, we need to see urgent action on the introduction of the SAHH questionnaire. This questionnaire will be based on an accurate assessment of each individual’s risk of infection, as I previously called for, rather than a discriminatory set of rules based on gender and sexuality.
“I am calling on Minister Stephen Donnelly to expedite the changes to the blood donation rules as a matter of urgency to ensure as many people as possible can contribute to maintaining our critical blood supply levels.”