During the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, men who have sex with men were banned outright from donating blood in several countries around the world.
Since then, laws have been relaxed to varying degrees in each country. In 2011, the United Kingdom ruled that a man could only donate blood if he had abstained from sexual relations with another man for more than a year.
However, in the lead up to this year's World AIDS Day, new laws for gay and bisexual men donating blood have come into effect in the UK.
The UK government announced in July that they would be changing the law to say that men who have sex with men will be able to donate blood if they have abstained from sex for only 3 months. This ruling came into effect last week.
According to UK LGBTQI+ website The Gay Times, this means that the UK now has one of the most progressive blood donation laws in the world.
The reformed rules have been fought for by LGBTQI+ activists for many years, and follow recommendations that are based on the advancement of blood testing and detection techniques, as well as a generally better understanding of HIV.
Dr Gail Miflin from the NHS Blood and Transplant service told The Independent that the reduction of the abstinence period wouldn't affect blood supplies or safety. “We have one of the safest blood supplies in the world,” said Miflin. "Anyone may require a blood transfusion in the future and so it's in all our interests to ensure that we work hard to keep blood safe for patients. This starts with selection of donors before they give blood. Everyone must answer questions on their health and lifestyle before they donate and answering these questions correctly is crucial, in order to keep blood safe.”
Liam Beattie, the Blood Donations Policy Lead at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said that the change was pleasing, and meant more people would be able to donate blood. "We hope this paves the way for more progress as further evidence becomes available, and we’re now urging the government to continue to regularly review the deferral periods in line with the latest evidence. It will now be vital for those who are now eligible to donate blood to be made aware of these changes," he said.
Ruth Hunt, the chief executive at LGBTQI+ charity Stonewall said, "There’s still work to do, as many gay and bi men will still be excluded from donating. To avoid this, we’d like to see the introduction of an individualised risk assessment of blood donors, which would allow more people to donate safely, regardless of their sexual orientation. We will continue to work with the Government and other organisations to create a fairer system for gay and bi men who want to donate blood."
In Australia currently, the law still dictates that men who have sex with men can only donate blood if they have abstained from all sexual contact for more than 12 months.