French health minister Marisol Touraine has announced that the country’s law banning gay men from donating blood is to be phased out from next spring. The restrictions will initially be brought in line with those of the U.K., where homosexual men are allowed to give blood provided they have not had sex with another man for a period of 12 months. If, by 2017, this change in policy has not been found to increase the risk of HIV infection in recipients, then the restrictions will be relaxed further, enabling those who have had sex with no more than one male partner in the past year to give blood – the same criteria that currently apply to heterosexuals in France.
Like a number of other nations, France banned gay men from giving blood in the early 1980s due to the global AIDS crisis. This situation was then exacerbated when, in 1985, French doctors knowingly performed blood transfusions on hemophiliacs using blood that was contaminated with HIV.
However, in more recent times, several countries around the world have relaxed or lifted these restrictions, due to the fact that modern diagnostic techniques have made it much easier to detect HIV in infected blood, leading to improved safety procedures. Yet in spite of this, there is little consistency regarding the barriers imposed upon homosexual blood donors from country to country. In Italy, for instance, donors of all sexual orientations are subjected to the same safety tests before being allowed to proceed, while a number of other nations have introduced deferral periods – meaning the length of time a homosexual person must be sexually abstinent prior to donating blood. In the U.K. this is set at one year, while Canada’s deferral period is five years and South Africa’s is six months.
Much of the evidence points to the fact that in these countries, the health risks to the general population have not increased, leading to calls from the American Red Cross for more nations to follow suit. Accordingly, Touraine announced the new measures by stating (in French) that “giving one’s blood is an act of generosity and civic responsibility that cannot be conditioned by sexual orientation.”
The initial deferral period of 12 months will be introduced for gay men wishing to donate their blood cells and plasma, while those who have had sex with no more than one partner for a period of four months will be allowed to donate their plasma only.