Is the Lifeblood plasma route the best route for LGBTQ+ donors? – OUTInPerth | LGBTQIA+ News and Culture | OUTInPerth
The Australian Red Cross Lifeblood Service works to remove barriers for gay men, bisexual men and some trans people and non-binary people who have sex with men to donate plasma in Australia.
The proposed changes would remove questions about sexual activity from plasma donor assessments, although they would maintain the three-month abstinence period for gay and bisexual men and many transgender people for donating whole blood.
The Let Us Give equality campaign questioned the decision, calling instead for a move towards individual risk assessments to allow more LGBTQ+ people to donate whole blood.
“Countries like Israel, Canada and France have trialled plasma donation for gay men, but quickly abandoned this approach in favor of whole blood donation,” said Let Us Give spokesperson Dr. Sharon Dane, earlier this week.
“In the Israeli, Canadian and French trials, plasma from homosexual donors was quarantined and frozen for three to four months so that the donor could return and be tested for HIV. For various reasons, many donors were unable to return within this time frame and their plasma had to be discarded.
Responding to the media statement from Let Us Give and Dr Dane, a Lifeblood spokesperson told OUTinPerth that these pathways are not offered by their organization.
“We wouldn’t require the donor to come back within a specific timeframe for a retest. These countries only collect very small volumes of plasma, which impacts their decisions,” the spokesperson said.
“In Australia, more than half of the donations needed by Australian patients are plasma. The need for plasma – the ‘golden’ part of blood that saves lives – is at an all time high and the need is expected to continue to grow. A growing number of patients rely on donated plasma for the treatment of cancer, immune disorders, haemophilia, trauma and kidney disease, and plasma is now the most needed type of blood donation in Australia.
“Donated plasma undergoes additional processing which reduces the risk of transmitting an infection to a patient. These additional processing steps include, for example, viral filters as a precision sieve to remove viruses and other methods to inactivate or kill viruses.
“This additional processing technology cannot currently be applied to red blood cells. Lifeblood is committed to reviewing options for further changes to blood donation in the future as evidence becomes available. It is important to say that for any change we must maintain Australia’s current very high blood supply safety threshold.
Lifeblood argues that the proposed plasma route potentially provides the most donors, as opposed to individual risk assessments.
“The plasma pathway potentially means anyone affected by this rule could donate. Individual assessment still prevents people from donating blood, including people in the general population (many of whom are currently eligible to donate) who have anal sex with a new sexual partner and those who have multiple sex partners,” the spokesperson continued.
“Donors on PrEP are still not able to donate. The main risk within the heterosexual community for newly acquired HIV is sexual activity with someone from a country with high HIV rates, and we use this question to screen for these new cases.
Lifeblood has also responded to concerns raised by Let Us Give about calls by the Australian Red Cross to donate blood. While Let Us Give Hope having greater access to blood donation would help alleviate low blood supplies in Australia, Lifeblood says they are not changing the rules in response to donation requests.
“Only 3% of the population donate, and there are over 9 million eligible Australians who are able to respond. Any changes to blood rules take time as they impact the lives of vulnerable patients in hospitals. They are part of an ongoing work to ensure that as many people as possible have the opportunity to donate,” the spokesperson said.
“One of the strategies used to deal with shortages is to ask donors to donate the type of donation they need most on the same day, whether it is blood or plasma. The Plasma Initiative will allow us to expand our global donor pool and in doing so will help us meet the demand for plasma and blood donations.
Let Us Give continues to encourage safe whole blood donation
Speaking to OUTinPerth, Let Us Give’s Dr Sharon Dane says the advocacy campaign believes enabling plasma donation for gay and bi men, trans women and non-binary people is a step forward, but it there is still work to be done.
“Unfortunately, this does not solve the current shortage of whole blood, which would be alleviated by allowing all donors to be assessed for their individual risk, regardless of the sex of their sexual partner,” Dr Dane said.
“Conservative estimates of the number of gay Australians who would donate blood if the current ban were lifted show that there would be an additional 25,500 liters of safe blood available each year to help Australians in need. Lifeblood should review the current ban based on that number alone.
Dr Dane also argues that removing current bans on certain LGBTQ+ people in favor of individual risk assessment only ensures safe blood donations from all Australians.
“The other reason for removing current bans and moving to individual risk assessment is that there continue to be new infections in heterosexual people,” Dr Dane said.
Latest figures from the Australian Federation of AIDS Service Organizations and the Kirby Institute show that 24% of new HIV cases in 2020 were attributed to heterosexual sex, while new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men increased. dropped 44% over the past five years.
“To ensure the blood supply is as safe as possible, the Red Cross Vital Blood Service should be prepared to ask all donors about their sexual risk, not just men who have sex with men. “
“We are also interested in knowing what questions Lifeblood intends to ask gay plasma donors to better respond to its proposed new policy.”
“If Lifeblood’s fear is to ask all donors about their sexual risk, it has a duty to explain what research exists to support that fear.”
Leigh Andrew Hill
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