In January 2017, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) updated the donor deferral criteria for gay and bisexual men donating blood, changing from a life-long deferral (in place since the emergence of HIV in the 1980’s) to a one-year deferral.
Currently in Ireland, gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men (gbMSM) must abstain from any sexual contact (regardless of the use of condoms and/or PrEP) for a minimum of 12 months before meeting the criteria for donating blood. The same criteria do not apply to heterosexual blood donors.
HIV Ireland’s position is that this approach is discriminatory and should be replaced with an evidence-based individualised risk-based approach for all blood donors to assess sexual behaviour, rather than grouping donors based on sexuality. In addition, the best available scientific evidence and advances in testing technology mean that the current 12-month deferral period imposed on gbMSM exceeds what is required to maintain the safety of the blood supply.
In 2019, our MPOWER Programme Manager met with senior members of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) to further HIV Ireland’s policy position to review the 12-month deferral criteria.
In the run-up to the General Election 2020, HIV Ireland published a HIV Manifesto calling on the next Government to “End the discriminatory 12-month deferral period on blood donations for gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men.”
On 1st June 2020, the one year deferral policy for gbMSM in Northern Ireland reduced to three months, bringing it in line with the rest of the UK, which has operated a three-month deferral policy since 2017. The Minister for Health in Northern Ireland said the decision was based on “evidence regarding the safety of donated blood”.