Blood donor ban for gays to go after a year of no sex
Gay men who abstain from sex for a year may no longer be prevented from donating blood, the Irish Independent has learned.
Ireland still prevents male homosexuals from giving blood - a rule that was introduced at the height of the Aids crisis in 1985. But the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) said it was in favour of a one-year deferral period, bringing Ireland into line with a number of other English-speaking countries.
Dr William Murphy, IBTS medical director, said switching from a life-long, or 10-year ban, to a shorter timespan, such as 12 months, had not increased the risk of HIV transmission in other countries. That seemed to be a "fairly secure position" for Ireland to take, he added.
It would need to be established, however, whether "sufficiently robust measures" are in place, or can be put in place, to deal with the risk of "new infections" emerging in the gay community, as was the case with HIV in the 1980s.
Such measures would allow any potential risk to be "accepted" by patient representative groups.
"We believe that it should be possible to seek general consensus," he added.
Under the proposal, the current ban on blood donations would be replaced with a policy barring donations from men who have had sex with another man in the last year.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said any policy shift would be based solely on the latest "scientific advice" provided to him by the IBTS.
"My own position is that the decision will be made based on the scientific evidence," he added.
The IBTS board will meet on November 16, after which it will formally make its recommendations to Mr Varadkar.
Stephen McMahon, of the Irish Patients Association, said the cornerstone of the policy would be "trust". "There also needs to be continuous investment in the screening process," he warned.
LGBT campaigners have described the existing ban as outdated and unfair.
Tiernan Brady, director of gay HIV strategies with GLEN, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, said the ban dated to a time when there was little knowledge about HIV or Aids.
"There was international panic about the condition. Thirty years later, the science has moved on. The lifetime ban simply doesn't match the science any more," he said. "The most important thing about any blood supply is that it's safe. As long as it's based on the best scientific evidence, that will help reassure patients' groups."
He said the success of the suggested 12-month deferral period would hinge on donors being "honest" about the last time that they were sexually active.