Since 2016 gay and bisexual men have been banned from donating blood within a year of sexual activity. The French Health Ministry announced on Wednesday that the period of abstinence, would be reduced to four months.
The easing of restrictions is scheduled to be enacted by 2020. This is a “first step” in plans to bring donor conditions for gay men in line with those for heterosexuals by 2022, the ministry said.
The decision by Health Minister Agnès Buzyn to reduce the mandatory pre-donation waiting time from 12 to four months after sexual intercourse is part of the regular assessment of donor-selection criteria and “is based on scientific, objective and independent elements,” the ministry said. It is not necessarily linked to changing attitudes towards homosexuality.
By way of justifying the restrictions, health authorities noted that men who have unprotected sex with men are at a significantly higher risk of infection and that the virus’s long dormancy period made it hard to detect.
Alleged ongoing discrimination
The announcement comes a month after gay rights groups filed a complaint with the European Commission alleging discrimination by France.
It pointed out that the 12-month abstinence rule “effectively excludes 93.8 percent of gay men from donating blood”.
Homosexual support groups had criticised the one year ban since it was introduced by decree in 2016. Before then, since 1983, men who had sex with men were banned outright from giving blood.
Studies by the French public health agency SpF have shown that the decision to lift the ban on gay donors in July 2016 did not increase the residual risk of HIV infection, which was already “very low” in France: the equivalent of one case of infected blood every two years.
A study known as Complidon conducted among 110,000 donors also showed that the access criteria for blood donation was largely respected, except for rare occasions when they were not understood or accepted, the ministry noted.
Blood donation ‘not a human right’
“We’ve gone from 12 to four months, it’s a first step but it’s insufficient,” said Catherine Michaud, a Paris elected official and head of GayLib.
Another association, Homodonneurs, was more critical, slamming the continuing four month ban as “a measure of exclusion”.
But AFH, an association supporting haemophiliacs, echoed the Health Ministry saying that “giving blood is not a right” and “should not have to respond to donors’ demands but the needs of receivers”.
Many other countries that have lifted bans on gay men donating blood have also introduced 12-month waiting periods. They include the United States, Australia, Sweden and Japan. Italy, Spain and Russia figure among only a handful of European countries that do not have a deferral policy.