The ban preventing homosexual and bisexual men from donating blood will be lifted come November in England, Scotland, and Wales.
In an attempt to prevent HIV contamination during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s when HIV testing was inadequate, the lifetime restriction was ordered. However, new medical evidence presented to a government panel showed that the ban was no longer warranted, BBC has reported.
Questions of equality have been raised, as well as medical reasoning, regarding the blood donation restriction. Ban guidelines have been under review by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs.
According to Committee member Professor Deirdre Kelly, restrictions have to be based on the most relevant scientific evidence.
The safety of the blood supply was of utmost importance she said. However, Kelly stated that advances in blood testing have greatly decreased the chance of errors and reduced the size of the “window period,” BBC has reported.
The “window period” is the time after being infected that it is impossible to detect the virus.
She added, “The risk from a 12-month deferral was equivalent to permanent deferral” so “the evidence does not support the maintenance of a permanent ban.”
Ministers in the three countries agreed with the case and ruled that any man who has not had sex with another man within the past 12 months would be able to donate. The one-year ban will go into effect on November 7, 2011.
“The change does not alter the estimated risk,” said Dr. Lorna Williamson, medical and research director of NHS Blood and Transplant, according to the BBC report.
However she added, the one-year rule would be “based on trust” when men registered for blood donation.
Sir Nick Partridge, chief executive of sexual health charity, Terence Higgins Trust, told BBC the new rules were “necessary, fair and reasonable.”
However, he stated because “the vast majority of gay men are still [sexually] active” it would be impossible to determine how many men could actually start donating.
Other at-risk groups are already banned from donating for a year. An example of this is people who have been sexually active in high-risk countries.
Other countries have similar rules in place – it is also a year in Australia, Sweden, and Japan. In South Africa there is a six-month waiting period between sex and donation.
The change in the blood donation ban has sparked an online debate between those for and against the one-year rule.