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Calls for Aotearoa to adopt ‘inclusive’ blood donation policy

25 May, 2023

Interview by Jessica Hopkins, adapted by Ashley-Rose Redstone

Tony Sriamporn, a PhD student investigating attitudes and behaviours towards blood donation among gay and bisexual men says it is in our best interest to have a blood supply that is both safe and inclusive for those who want to donate. Photo: Canva. 

Listen to the full interview 

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed updated guidelines to ease restrictions on men who have sex with men (MSM) and others who have sex with MSM donating blood. 

Under the new FDA guidelines, prospective donors will now be asked "individual risk-based questions" regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, or sex. 

This comes after other countries also adopted an inclusive approach to blood donation policy, allowing MSM who have not had any new or multiple sexual partners in the past three months to donate blood, provided all other eligibility criteria are met. 

Within Aotearoa, there has now been calls for us to follow other countries in removing restrictions preventing MSM with only one sexual partner from donating blood.

Tony Sriamporn, a PhD student from the school of population health and medicine at Waipapa Taumata Rau, the University of Auckland told 95bFM’s The Wire that successful initiatives in the US, UK, and Canada, can provide Aotearoa with the necessary evidence to safely reduce limitations for MSM donors.

Sriamporn is a researcher in the Sex and Prevention of Transmission (SPOTS) study, investigating alternatives to the current blood donation policy that excludes many MSM. 

Sriamporn said the study aims to provide the New Zealand Blood Service with the information they need to make a positive recommendation to Mesafe and initiate change. 

“Gay men want to donate and participate in this highly valued civic act. Our data shows that four out of five are interested in donating. Most think their blood is safe and that the policies are discriminatory.”

“Ultimately, it is in our best interest to have a safe blood supply that is sufficient for the needs of our country and more inclusive for those who want to donate.”

Restrictions on blood donation for MSM have been in place since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, which disproportionately affected gay and bisexual men. 

But many now view these restrictions as discriminatory, unnecessarily restrictive, and inconsistent with modern, HIV prevention approaches.

In 2015, the life-time ban on MSM donating blood was removed and MSM were required to abstain from sex for one year to be eligible to donate blood. In 2020, this was reduced to three months after donations plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Aotearoa has also implemented these changes. 

In a statement to 95bFM, Transfusion Medicine Specialist at the New Zealand Blood Service, Gavin Cho, said they recognise the issue is important to New Zealanders and are waiting on New Zealand specific data to change their own donor criteria.

“We have been working with the University of Auckland on its SPOTS study. Our hope is the results of this study will provide vital evidence-based New Zealand data that will also help inform our future recommendations.”