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Irish Blood Transfusion Service could move to lift ban on donations from gay men

Health chiefs are expected to advise next month that there is no evidence of increased risk of HIV infections by lifting the ban on blood donations from gay men.

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) is to ask the Department of Health to approve its position in June before regulators are asked to give the green light to any changes.

A two-day conference in Dublin heard other countries have not recorded any significant increase in risk from HIV or other infectious diseases if the ban is lifted.

Sexually active gay and bisexual men are permanently barred from giving blood in Ireland, unlike other countries such as the UK where a one-year deferral period has been in place since 2011.

Dr William Murphy, IBTS medical and scientific director, said the board could conclude from evidence that moving to a one-year ban for donations does not lead to increased risk.

But he cautioned: “This is a country that does not accept the presence of an incinerator on your doorstep.

“We are extremely averse to technological risk, so we have a bit to go yet.”

The blood donation ban for sexually active gay men came into force in the mid-1980s in an attempt to reduce the risk of HIV infections in blood transfusions.

Options being considered for new rules on donations include a five-year deferral period for sexually active gay men, which could potentially reduce to one year.

No time frame has been offered for the ban to be lifted.

Dr Murphy said Ireland was heralded as a liberal nation after last year’s gay marriage referendum but other countries which also maintain the ban on blood donations from gay men are not considered discriminatory.

“I don’t think it will make a huge difference outside of Ireland (if the ban is lifted),” he said.

“Many countries have changed, some have not. Some are going through the process of reviewing the law – Belgium, Germany, Denmark, where bans are in place – but we would not consider them homophobic countries.”

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The IBTS will detail its policy on donations to its board next month before sending it to the Department of Health in June.

It may be sent to the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) for approval before coming into effect.


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