Statement by Minister Harris – Change in Blood Donor Deferral Policy for Men Who Have Sex With Men
Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has announced that from today the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) have introduced a change to the blood donor deferral policy. This change will see the lifting of the lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM). A man who last had sex with another man more than 12 months ago will now be able to donate blood if he meets the other blood donor selection criteria.
The Minister also welcomed today’s introduction of an additional deferral from blood donation of those with a history of specific notifiable sexually transmitted infections for five years from completion of treatment of that infection.
Commenting on the changes, Minister Harris said “The IBTS provides a safe, reliable and robust blood service to the Irish health system and has the necessary programmes and procedures in place to protect both donors and recipients of blood and blood products. Furthermore, the IBTS will continue to keep all deferral policies under active review in the light of scientific evidence, emerging infections and international experience.”
This change in deferral policy relating to MSM follows detailed consideration of the issues involved over the past two years. This process included the hosting, by the IBTS, of an international symposium in April 2016, where experts from seven countries who had either changed, or were in the process of changing, their deferral policy from a lifetime ban for MSM as blood donors, presented their respective stances, research and the rationale behind their decisions.
The change to a one-year deferral for MSM is supported by the most current scientific evidence available and brings Ireland into line with similar policies in the UK, Canada and elsewhere.
The Minister highlighted the importance of donating blood, and urged all those eligible to consider donation, saying, “Only 3% of the eligible population of Ireland are active blood donors – yet 1 in 4 people will require a blood transfusion at some time in their lives.”
Minister Harris concluded, “In June of last year, I accepted the recommendations of the IBTS to change their blood donation deferral policies for men who have sex with men, as well as for donors who have had a sexually transmitted infection. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the IBTS for their work over the past 6 months which today sees these recommendations brought to fruition within the timescale agreed.”
Note for Editors:
The IBTS have protocols in place to minimise transfusion transmitted infection of blood. They test all prospective blood donors in Ireland by individual donor NAT (nucleic acid testing) for a number of diseases including HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. This is the most sensitive method of testing available.
The risk of transmitted infection of blood is at its highest when individuals donate blood during the window period – the 5-15 day period following exposure to a virus. There is no biological measure to detect infectivity during this window period and, as a consequence, the IBTS temporarily or permanently defer on average, 1 in 10 people from giving blood.
The Irish Blood Transfusion Service is a statutory agency under the aegis of the Minister for Health and is responsible in law for organising and administering a blood transfusion service.