Giving blood is one of the simplest charitable acts that a person can commit, and can have one of the most drastic effects, it can literally save a persons life, despite this though not everyone is allowed to donate blood. While certain groups such as those who use intravenous drugs and sex workers are forbidden to give blood due to their high risk of disease there is one other group who are also excluded, MSM.
MSM or men who have sex with men, is a term used to describe any male who has at any point in their life had sexual contact with another man and obviously includes the vast majority of gay men.
While England and Scotland have lifted a similar ban in recent years and replaced it with a deferral until after a set period of abstinence.
I spoke with Dr Ian Franklin, the Medical and Scientific Director of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service to find out the reason behind this exclusion.
“What we’re trying to achieve is the lowest possible risk to the recipient” he says “We are required under the EU Directive to exclude donors who have either behaviour or characteristics that may put them at high risk of carrying an infection in the blood
When asked about why this includes gay men he expanded “MSM have around a 30 to 40 times higher prevalence of HIV than heterosexual men . . . there’s also a high risk for some other infections . . . that some of us are concerned could be a mark of other problems.” He states “The testing is very sensitive but we don’t test for everything, we can only test for what we know about, we test for HIV we test for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and we also Test for Syphilis . . . Its very effective but its never 100% . . . . The reason we operate the exclusion is that we have concerns about unknown viruses we can’t test for than may be associated with men who have sex with men”
Despite this Franklin went on to speak about how advances in testing technology was making a short term deferral of donation an increasing possibility
“The MSM issue is quite complex, there are two real issues with MSM, whether they should be excluded at all and how long, if you agree they should be excluded . . . since they last had sexual contact. . . almost all blood services around the world do exclude msm and gay men from giving blood if they are sexually active recently . . . Spain is the only country I know that will accept a sexually active gay man provided they have not had a new partner in six months . . . . To be honest if I wanted to protect the blood supply from HIV I think a month would be sufficient”
However, before any such changes can be made in Ireland there needs to be proof that it would not negatively affect the blood supply and endanger potential recipients.
Watch a report on the similar situation in England a few years ago where Dr Franklin is part of a debate about the issues of MSM blood donation.
What do you think about this issue, should MSM be allowed to donate blood? Is the safety of the blood supply more important? Leave a Comment below.