On January 16 a new directive came into place whereby Irish men who have sex with men will be able to donate blood for the first time since the dawn of the Aids epidemic… if they haven’t had sex in 12 months.
Some activists say the deferral period is unjust, but they may be fighting a futile battle, as Ciara McGrattan reports.
On any given day 17 to 20 percent of those who show up to donate blood are denied the chance to do so for a variety of reasons: from failing a haemoglobin test, to having traveled to malaria or Zika zones in the preceding months, or even having recently undergone acupuncture.
Until Monday, January 16, being a man who has sex with men (or indeed, a man who ever had sex with another man) was one of these exclusionary criteria. After that date, Irish MSMs will be able to donate blood for the first time – providing they haven’t had sex with another man in the preceding 12 months.
The lifetime ban on gay men and MSMs has been in place since 1985, when it was introduced in response to the burgeoning global Aids crisis. However, in the intervening decades, scientific advances in the treatment and cataloging of Aids and HIV have made the justification of a lifetime ban increasingly untenable.
This, coupled with increasing pressure from campaigners and a change in the UK’s policy in 2011 (excepting Northern Ireland), ultimately led to a long-overdue policy update.
In a policy review released in January, 2015, the IBTS outlined three possible resolutions to the situation: remove the ban entirely, leave it in place or introduce a deferral period where gay men could give blood after a specified period of time. Then Minister for Health Leo Varadkar came out in favour of a deferral period policy, and in May 2016, current Minister for Health Simon Harris announced his department’s decision to replace the ban with a one-year deferral.