Blood donor deferral for men who have sex with men: still room to move

Transfusion. 2018 Mar;58(3):816-822. doi: 10.1111/trf.14445. Epub 2017 Dec 17.


Background: Like a number of other countries, Australia mandates that a man who has had sex with men is deferred from donation until 12 months has elapsed since the sexual activity. This review examined whether this deferral period is justified by current evidence.

Study design and methods: Databases (Medline, EMBASE, Scopus) were searched using terms "blood donation" and "gay" or "MSM" and "HIV risk" from the mid-1980s to the present to investigate the history of donor deferral policy and its rationale in Australia.

Results: Gay and bisexual men in Australia face a higher risk of human immunodeficiency virus and other blood-borne viruses (BBVs) than other populations. All blood donations, however, are tested for BBVs, and with current testing technologies the window period during which infection may be present but not detected is now less than 1 week. While there is a moral imperative to maintain blood safety, there is also a moral imperative to ensure that differential treatment of population groups with regard to donation eligibility is scientifically justified. Potential social harms that may flow from a dissonance between deferral policy and its evidence base include loss of trust and increased nonadherence to policy.

Conclusions: A 12-month deferral for gay and bisexual men exceeds what is required to maintain blood safety. This disparity potentially causes social harm without any additional benefit to public health. Reducing the deferral period to 3 months will not increase health risk to recipients and may have the social benefit of increasing inclusiveness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Blood Donors*
  • Blood Safety / methods*
  • HIV
  • HIV Infections / blood
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • Homosexuality, Male*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk Factors