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Ireland won't lift ban on MSM blood donors, despite British move

Britain relaxes its ban on blood donations from men who sleep with men, but there are no plans for a similar move in Ireland.

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service says it does not plan to change its current policy of refusing donations from any man who has had sex with another man.
The Irish Blood Transfusion Service says it does not plan to change its current policy of refusing donations from any man who has had sex with another man.
Image: James Horan/Photocall ireland

Updated, 15.17

IRISH HEALTH AUTHORITIES have said they do not plan to change their laws which ban men who have sex with men (MSM) from giving blood – despite a British decision today to relax a similar ban there.

The UK government’s Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs this morning concluded an 18-month review by deciding that the ban there – which banned any man from ever giving blood if he had slept with another man – should be relaxed.

From November, Britain will now operate a 12-month deferral period – meaning that men who have not had gay sex for the past year may now offered blood donations.

Northern Ireland has yet to decide whether it will adopt the recommendation – but the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, which oversees blood donations in the Republic, says it has no plans to follow suit.

“We currently ask those who may have a particularly high risk of carrying blood-borne viruses not to give blood,” an IBTS statement this lunchtime said. “This includes men who have ever had sex with another man or men.”

It added:

The decision is not based on sexuality or orientation, only specific actions. The IBTS has a responsibility to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of safe blood to meet the needs of patients.

Both jurisdictions had banned the donation of blood from MSM in the 1980s in order to reduce the risk of donated blood containing HIV.

IBTS said that recent Irish data showed a higher rate of HIV among men who slept with men than among others, and that while it tested all donations for HIV, a small number of infected donations could be missed because of a ‘window period’.

Tiernan Brady of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) said that the most important aspect of the blood supply was that it was safe and inspired public confidence.

He said the British review had been based solely on scientific evidence, and said the review’s findings had to be taken on board by the IBTS.

European health commission John Dalli has said that while countries should not discriminate against potential blood donors on the basis of their sexuality, it is permissible to ban donations from people on the basis of sexual activity.

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Gavan Reilly

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