France is easing its restrictions on blood donations by gay and bisexual men.
The nation’s Health Ministry announced Wednesday that it will allow donations by men who have not had sex with another man in the previous four months, down from 12 months under the previous policy, which dates to 2016, international news channel France 24 reports. The new deferral period will go into effect February 1.
The ministry said the change was a “first step” toward making rules for gay and bi men the same as those for heterosexual men by 2022 and that it was based on scientific advances.
France, like the U.S., placed a lifetime ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men in 1983, early in the AIDS epidemic, when donated blood containing HIV resulted in numerous infections of recipients. Many other countries imposed such a ban in the early 1980s as well.
But now screening technologies are much improved, allowing for the detection of HIV in donated blood. Also, many gay and bi men are taking pre-exposure prophylaxis, the daily dosage of a drug to prevent HIV-negative people from being infected with the virus during sex. And scientific studies have shown that people who have HIV but have suppressed their viral load to an undetectable level cannot transmit the virus to their sexual partners.
French LGBTQ activists had filed a complaint with the European Commission last month saying the 12-month deferral period still constituted antigay discrimination. It “effectively excludes 93.8 percent of gay men from donating blood,” said a statement issued by the gay rights groups behind the complaint. A similar complaint has been filed with the European Court of Human Rights.
Any deferral at all is discriminatory as well, many activists and scientists say. “A gay man who has been having safe sex, including within a monogamous relationship, is not necessarily at higher risk of acquiring HIV than a woman who has had multiple sexual partners and possibly unsafe sex,” Australian researcher Jennifer Power wrote in a recent piece for The Conversation. “Yet a heterosexual woman is not banned from blood donation because she has had sex. Instead, heterosexual women are trusted to make their own assessment and accurate disclosure of their likely HIV risk. Gay and bisexual men are not.”
But a representative of the Health Ministry defended France’s deferral Wednesday, telling Agence France-Presse, “Being able to donate blood is not a right, it’s a civic gesture that is subject to safety rules.” Straight men who have had more than one partner in the past four months are also barred from donating blood, the rep noted.