France Ends Ban on Blood Donation by Gay Men

France is lifting a ban instituted in the 1980s that prohibited gay men from donating blood, AFP reports.

French Health Minister Marisol Touraine announced that the ban—in place since 1983 and originally conceived as a means of stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS—would be overturned piecemeal over the next two years.

From 2016, gay men who have not been sexually active in the preceding 12 months would be able to donate whole blood—red blood cells, platelets and the liquid plasma. For plasma-only donations, gay male donors who had not had homosexual sex for four months or were in a monogamous relationship would be permitted to give blood. Experts will assess whether the changes have increased the risk of HIV transmission and further relaxations to the rules may follow in 2017, said Touraine.

Restrictions on blood donation by gay men remain in a number of countries, including the U.K., the U.S., Australia and Sweden. The U.K., excluding Northern Ireland, overturned a lifetime ban on blood donations by homosexual and bisexual men in 2011 but still bans donation by men who have had homosexual sex in the past 12 months. In the U.S., men who have had sex with other men (MSM) at any time since 1977—when the AIDS epidemic first began in the U.S.—are permanently deferred from giving blood, though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued draft guidance in July that called for the lifetime ban to be reduced to 12 months.

Gay and bisexual men are considered to be at particular risk of contracting HIV. According to the Terrence Higgins Trust, a U.K. HIV charity, the virus affects one in 17 gay and bisexual men in the U.K., rising to as many as one in eight in London. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that MSM represent two percent of the U.S. population, but that 57 percent of HIV-positive people in the country are gay and bisexual men or gay and bisexual men who inject drugs.

Blood donation in France is a sensitive issue. In 1985, around 4,000 people were given blood infected with HIV before the link between HIV transmission and blood was fully understood. Former French Health Minister Edmond Herve was convicted of manslaughter in 1999 in connection with two cases of patients who were infected with AIDS after receiving the tainted blood. Some of the blood was also exported, including to Iran, and Iranian parliamentarians called for French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius—who was acquitted at the 1999 trial—to give an account of the affair during a visit in July earlier this year.

Touraine said that rolling back the lifetime ban constituted the lifting of a "taboo" in France. "Giving blood is an act of generosity, of civic responsibility, and the donor's sexual orientation cannot be a condition."

Yohann Roszewitch, president of French gay rights group, SOS homophobie welcomed the end of the "systematic exclusion" of gay and bisexual men, but said it "strongly regrets the continued discrimination based on sexual orientation."

Freedom to Donate, a U.K. pressure group campaigning to end the 12-month donation deferral period on MSM, says it cannot comment on the French situation but wants to see the U.K. restrictions further relaxed.

"The 12-month deferral period is meant to protect against blood-borne viruses in the blood supply, yet medical evidence would suggest that this period is way in excess of what is necessary," says Ethan Spibey, the group's founder. "As someone whose grandfather is alive thanks to a blood donor, I and [Freedom to Donate] recognize that the safety of the blood supply is paramount. However, the policy...must reflect up-to-date scientific evidence and a review must similarly recognize medical advancements."

France Ends Ban on Blood Donation by Gay Men |