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Monday 6 February 2023 Dublin: 3°C
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# IBTS
New blood donation changes come into effect lifting blanket rules based on sexual orientation
The IBTS will assess each donor’s eligibility to donate on a person-by-person basis, rather than applying risks associated with specific populations.

NEW BLOOD DONATION changes come into effect today which scraps blanket rules based on sexual orientation.

Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men previously had to abstain from sexual contact for a minimum of 12 months before meeting the criteria for donating blood.

In March of this year, that 12 month time limit was reduced to four months.

But from today, the time limit has been lifted and the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) will move to a system of individualised risk-based assessment for all potential donors.

It means the IBTS will assess each donor’s eligibility to donate on a person-by-person basis in relation to sexual history and risk, rather than applying risks associated with specific populations.

A similar system was introduced in the UK Blood Services in 2021.

Dr Tor Hervig, IBTS Medical & Scientific Director, said the changes makes the process fairer and more inclusive, while maintaining the safety of the blood supply.

He added: “Every donor will be asked the same questions about their sexual activity, regardless of the donor’s gender or sexual orientation, or those of his/her partner.”

The changes incorporate the key recommendations made by the Social Behaviours Review Group (SBRG) in 2021. 

This independent Advisory Committee was established to review the evidence base for donor eligibility in Ireland.

Meanwhile, the SBRG identified several factors associated with a higher risk of acquiring blood-borne infection. 

These factors include: engaging in chemsex, having anal sex with a new partner or more than one partner, and having a recent sexually transmitted infection. 

The SBRG recommended that questions about these factors be added to the donor health and lifestyle questionnaires that will be answered by all donors.

The move has been welcomed by HIV Ireland, which says the changes come on the back of years of advocacy.

Stephen O’Hare, Executive Director of HIV Ireland, said the new policy is “a key step in the ongoing development of what can eventually be a world leading blood donation policy in Ireland”.

Meanwhile, Adam Shanley, a programme manager at HIV Ireland and also a member of the SBRG, expressed disappointment that certain restrictions will be maintained, including a permanent ban for those with a history of gonorrhoea and where a sexual partner is living with HIV and is virally supressed.

Shanley said: “In reviewing ongoing deferral policies, every consideration should be given by the IBTS to the weight of robust scientific evidence on the efficacy of available treatments for STIs, including in relation to sexual partners living with HIV who are virally supressed and cannot pass on HIV through sex.”

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