30 August 2023
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:16): I move:
That this council—
I. Notes that under current rules, men who have sex with men or people who have sex with men who have sex with other men, are ineligible to donate blood if they have been sexually active within the last three months;
2. Acknowledges that the Therapeutic Goods Administration has recently approved the removal of sexual activity rules for plasma donation, but not blood donation;
3. Recognises that countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States have abandoned eligibility criteria that is based on the gender identity or sexual orientation of sexual partners;
4. Notes that adopting an individual risk assessment model such as that used in the United Kingdom could result in an additional 25,000 litres of blood each year in Australia, which could save up to 162,000 lives; and
5. Calls on the Minister for Health to advocate for the federal government to adopt a new policy that aligns with the United Kingdom model of screening all donors for their individual risk regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
This motion notes the current rules that apply with respect to blood donation here in our state and right across the country. In particular, it highlights the restrictions placed on men who have sex with men and highlights the fact that they are ineligible to donate blood if they have been sexually active within the last three months. The motion goes on to acknowledge that the Therapeutic Goods Administration has recently approved the removal of sexual activity rules for plasma donation, but not with respect to blood donation.
The reason I am highlighting this is that Australia is really out of step with other jurisdictions around the world when it comes to restrictions being placed on blood donation. Other places around the world now adopt an evidence-based approach to blood donation, but in South Australia we base it on sexual activity and sexual partners.
It is certainly the view of the Greens that that is an anachronistic approach that needs to be revisited. That is why we are calling on the Minister for Health to advocate for the federal government to adopt a new policy that better aligns with the screening of donors that is adopted in other jurisdictions. I have written to the Minister for Health regarding this matter.
Just briefly, it is important to note that Australia has one of the lowest blood donor rates in the world, and regularly runs short of blood. About one in three Australians will need blood or blood products in their lifetime, but only one in 30 Australians (or 3 per cent) donate blood every year. One point five million blood donations are collected in Australia every year; however, over 1.7 million donations are needed to meet demand. This represents a shortfall of 20,000 blood donations every year.
High stress periods, which usually coincide with the Easter and Christmas holidays, see the amount of blood supply decline, but the demand for blood either stays the same or increases due to more people being on the road and an increase in road accidents. Most of the donated blood is used to help people with medical conditions who require blood or blood products regularly, and each donation can save three lives.
Blood is perishable and only lasts for 42 days. Furthermore, donors cannot give whole blood again for up to three months after they have donated. Despite the need for more blood, there is a large group of potential donors who are prevented from donating: gay men, bisexual men and some non-binary people who have sex with men are expected to abstain from sex for three months before giving blood because of a policy that has been in place for some time.
This ban on blood donations was put in place in the 1980s. Since then, however, there have been significant changes in public policy. Members may be familiar with the availability of the HIV-prevention drug PrEP, which is now readily available in Australia and on the PBS and which is very effective in terms of reducing the transmission of the HIV virus.
Current research supports the arguments that abstinence-based deferrals are no longer necessary to protect the safety of the blood supply. Findings show that a policy of assessing every individual donor for the safety of their sexual activity, regardless of their gender or the gender of their sexual partner, would not only not compromise blood safety but would also increase the blood supply. This would be a major step in removing discrimination from blood donation.
Allowing these groups of people to donate blood could result in an additional 25,000 litres of blood each year in Australia which, it has been estimated, could save up to 162,000 lives. Other countries like Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Israel and the Netherlands have abandoned the old-fashioned bans that are placed on the gender of their sexual partner and instead adopted a policy of individual risk assessment that screens all donors for the safety of their sexual activity. The result in these countries has been that blood supply is safer and less discriminatory.
It is time for Australia to follow their lead. LGBTI groups in Australia, including Just Equal Australia, are calling on the Red Cross Lifeblood service and the Therapeutic Goods Administration to end the barrier to gay men donating blood in our country. Denying gay men, bisexual men and some non-binary people who have sex with men from donating blood reinforces some of the negative connotations of gay sex, and it also prevents same-sex attracted people from being able to make a civic contribution if they so wish by making a donation.
This motion calls upon the Minister for Health and Wellbeing to advocate for the federal government to adopt a new policy. As I say, I have written to the health minister regarding the matter, and I do hope that he takes it up with his counterparts in Canberra and that we can see a change in policy here that would bring our country into line with other jurisdictions and boost the blood supply.
Debate adjourned on motion of Hon I.K. Hunter.