Blood Donation: All Change?

Since HIV and AIDS exploded into public consciousness in the mid 1980s, UK blood donation services have barred men who have ever had sex with men from donating blood, to reduce the risk of HIV transmission.  At the same time there has been a bar on women donating blood, which applied for 12 months from the last time they had sex with any man who would be barred from donating.

Pressure for change has built in recent years, on the grounds that the blanket ban seems peculiar, based on who you have sex with, not how – or indeed how recently, given men who had not had sex with anyone for years were barred.  On the other hand higher rates of HIV among men who have sex with men (‘MSM’) pose a challenge in whether revoking the ban could increase the risk of people getting HIV from blood transfusions.

From November 7th, that has changed.  The lifetime ban is reduced to 12 months.  This is a far shorter bar than was anticipated in the summer, when leaks suggested a 10 year ban, while still not being full equality.

In Wales, Scotland and England the ‘blood ban’ has been rolled back.  Not all the way, and while in appearance the ’12 month rule’ makes things simple, some interesting quirks have been found in the effects of the new rule.

Blood ban campaigner Chris Ward spotted one of the anomalies.  He blogged:
“The new criteria states, oddly, that if you are a woman who has had sex with an MSM individual, you are still banned for 12 months, even if that man is now eligible to give blood under the new criteria. This essentially introduces the following paradox.
1. Man who had sex with a man 13 months ago: Risk assessment states OK to give blood.
2. Woman who had sex with man above last night: Risk assessment states not OK to give blood for 12 months.”

In Northern Ireland, meanwhile, the ban goes unchanged.  As a devolved matter it went to the minister, Edwin Poots, who was challenged by the chair of the Health committee, Michelle Gildenew:

Michelle:  The briefing paper that we got from the Department was very helpful
on compliance levels and on the current risk of HIV-infected donations being released into the blood supply. I refer you to the fact that the information provided in the paper states that, if the 12-month referral were introduced, the risk would be 0·228 per million donations. The current risk is 0·227 per million donations, so that would be a rise of 0·001 per million donations. How many donations do we get here in the North in a year? I would imagine that one million would be quite high, but the number would need to be over 100 million donations before the
figures would kick in. That is an awful lot of blood for such a small place.
Edwin: I do not know precisely what the figure is for Northern Ireland, but I know that, across the UK, it is around 2·5 million
Michelle: So, you would presume that we certainly do not get anywhere near one
million donations.
Edwin: Given that we have 1·8% of the population, a divisor of just over 30
would be close to the figure.
Michelle: It would still not be near one million.

A little maths suggests that this would mean one additional case of HIV infection
through blood transfusion per two thousand years.

You have to admire the sense of caution there.