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    The Greens Want To End The Blanket Ban On Blood Donations From Gay Men

    The Human Rights Commission is being asked to review the policy.

    The Greens want to make it easier for gay men to donate blood in Australia.

    Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE

    New Greens Senator Robert Simms, who spoke passionately about LGBT inclusion in his maiden speech, today wrote a letter to human rights commissioner Tim Wilson asking him to investigate the "discriminatory" policy.

    "There is a subgroup of men who have sex with men who are at low risk of infection, such as those in monogamous relationships," Simms says in the letter.

    "Making definitive statements about a partner's sexual behaviour is a limiting factor for all potential blood donors and the information they provide is not always accurate; consequently there is an unknown risk of HIV associated with all sexual partners."

    As it stands, any man who has had sexual contact with another man in the past 12 months is forbidden from donating blood, meaning the ban is effectively a lifetime one for most gay men.

    Many experts say a 12-month ban fails to keep up with rapidly improving technologies for detecting HIV/AIDS in blood. New rapid testing methods mean a person can receive a blood test result back almost instantly.

    In 2013 the Red Cross Blood Service teamed with experts from Australia's peak HIV/AIDS research group, the Kirby Institute, and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations to ask the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to lower the deferral period to six months.

    The TGA denied the request on the basis that the benefits of lowering the deferral period would not outweigh the potential risks, while noting a recent increase in newly diagnosed HIV cases in MSM in 2013.

    Advocates at the time were disappointed with the TGA's decision, saying it reflected an exaggerated fear of contagion from the 1980s and did not keep up with improving technologies.

    Simms says technological advances mean the TGA should be taking another look at the issue as soon as possible.

    "If someone is going to be denied the opportunity to donate blood, it should be on the basis that they've engaged in unprotected sex and other risky practices," the senator told BuzzFeed News. "But if someone has engaged in protected, safe sex, there's no reason why they can't give blood. You shouldn't be denied just on the basis of sexual orientation."

    Simms says it's incredibly disheartening for young same-sex-attracted men to be told they cannot donate blood while their straight friends can.

    "I've been in instances with the Young Greens where there's a group who like to go and regularly donate blood, and a lot of the members of that group are same-sex attracted and in gay relationships and are not able to give blood.

    "It's just really discriminatory. And in 21st-century Australia I think most people would be shocked to learn that this is an ongoing policy. It really stigmatises gay men and really excludes gay men from part of civic life."

    Wilson told BuzzFeed News that any decision should be based on sound science.

    Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE

    "The issues of discrimination can only be justified so long as it is informed by credible scientific evidence and is necessary to manage the risk to the health of others," he said.

    A spokesperson for the TGA confirmed that the 12-month deferral policy stands. The Red Cross Blood Service has said it will return to the TGA to request a shorter deferral period, but that request is unlikely to come before 2018.

    Rob Stott is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

    Contact Rob Stott at rob.stott@buzzfeed.com.

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