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New Zealand to shorten ban on gay and bisexual blood donors

Wednesday, May 14, 2014
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) is set to reduce the waiting period for HIV negative gay and bisexual men to donate blood.

New-ZealandNZBS said it accepted a report on Tuesday to the shorten the five year ban on gay men from donating blood, reducing the wait to 12 months after having unprotected sex.

A strict ban on gay men was introduced at the height of the AIDS/HIV pandemic in the 1980s, while in 1998 it was altered to a ten-year deferral, and a decade later to five.

NZBS has now accepted recommendations to cut the time further, from five years to 12 months. The changes also cover sex workers and people from countries with a high prevalence of HIV.

NZBS’s Medical director, Dr Peter Flanagan, told Radio New Zealand that the rules are there to make the blood supply as safe as possible.

“In the very early stages the virus may be present in the donation and it may not be detected by our test. Because of that our most effective approach to assure ongoing safety is to combine that testing with specific deferrals of individuals who are at higher risk of acquiring the infection,” he stated.

Rainbow Wellington, an LGBT advocacy group, said that while the changes are encouraging, they are not sufficiently far-reaching. The group has called for individual risk-assessments rather than a shorter deferral.

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In 1983, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implemented a lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men in response to the AIDS outbreak, and has since refused to amend that policy.

Last year, the American Medical Association, the largest association of physicians in the U.S., voted to oppose the ban, calling it “outdated,” “discriminatory” and “not based on sound science.”

The United Kingdom lifted its ban in 2011, allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood if they haven’t had sex with a man in the prior 12 months, and last year Canada reduced its lifetime ban to five years.

Final approval on New Zealand’s change could come by the end of the year.

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