© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2022

Calls for changes to blood donation criteria for gay men

Luka Forman
blood donation
Blood plasma donation  ANKAWU, Wikimedia commons

The head of Body Positive New Zealand, and HIV awareness organisation, says the current criteria is discriminatory, and is based on preconceived ideas of homosexuality.

It states that if you are a man who has had protected or unprotected sex with another man in the last three months, you cannot donate blood. 

Mark Fisher thinks the criteria to donate should be based on an individual's behaviour rather than having a blanket ban on one group. 

"HIV doesn't discriminate, it can affect anybody, so anybody is at risk of HIV if they're having casual sex without condoms." 

The model that Fisher supports is similar to the one used in the UK. Canada is also adopting a similar system later this year. 

"Why are we waiting? We need to move quickly to stay up to date with that information. The UK did a lot of research into what they should do in terms of their transition...there's lots of really good evidence on that from the UK."

A university report into the issue said the three month period remains because of the chance HIV can remain detected for this long. 

However, Fisher believes this approach is outdated. 

"In reality they'll be doing much more advanced testing than that, they'll be doing nucleic acid testing on the samples and they'd be able to pick it up much sooner than that three month window...I'd be more inclined to look at a 14 day window." 

Fisher said New Zealand still had a number of HIV cases each year from straight men and women, so it doesn't make sense for the system to only exclude gay men. 

Daniel Perese, who is gay, doesn't think the criteria is homophobic, but it does make him feel guilty. 

"You see everyone else donating blood, and the advertisements saying you're saving a life to donate blood, but then to know personally I have to make sacrifices or give up stuff... I don't see anyone else having to make those sacrifices."

Daniel said he would donate blood if he could. 

He said it could also be difficult for young gay men to explain why they can't donate blood if they're not 'out' yet. 

Daniel said the blood service could partner up with the New Zealand AIDS foundation to improve their testing.

"There's HIV rapid tests, like the Covid RAT tests, that they could do prior, and plus they test all the blood anyway."

A spokesperson for the Blood Service said it didn't discriminate based on sexuality, and its primary objective was to make sure blood provided to its patients was as safe as possible. 

They said the majority of HIV transmission in New Zealand was seen in the gay community, and condoms didn't always prevent this risk if they break or are not used properly. 

They pointed out blood donation could also be restricted for other reasons, for example people who lived in the UK during the mad cow epidemic in the 80s are ineligible.

The spokesperson said the Blood Service was involved in the Sex and Prevention of Transmission Study (SPOTS), and this would help to inform their future policy, and investigate possible alternatives.



Link to photo: 

File:Blood plasma donation 3653.JPG - Wikimedia Commons