France has lifted restrictions on blood donations for gay and bisexual men, and will no long require sexual abstinence.
On Tuesday (11 January), the country’s health minister Olivier Véran announced that from 16 March, 2022, “all French people, whatever their sexual orientation, will be able to donate blood”.
He added on Twitter: “We are ending discrimination that was no longer justified.”
After the change comes in, all donors will be asked if they are taking measures to prevent HIV infection. They will also be asked about their sexual activity and drug use, regardless of their sexual orientation.
France introduced a blanket ban on blood donation for gay and bisexual men in 1983, at the start of the HIV epidemic, and has been especially slow to change after a so-called “blood scandal” was uncovered in the 1990s in which hundreds of people were given HIV-positive blood.
In 2016, the blanket ban was lifted and replaced with a requirement for gay and bisexual men to abstain from sex for one year before donating blood. This period was reduced to four months in 2019.
But in a press release, Santé Publique France said that with current testing technologies, the only “residual risk of transmission by transfusion” was if blood was donated during the “silent window” – the period between infection and markers of infection becoming detectable in tests.
“This risk is currently estimated at one in 11.6 million donations, or one potentially HIV-infected donation every four years,” the French public health agency said.
Matthieu Gatipon-Bachette, spokesperson for the L’Interassociative Lesbienne, Gaie, Bi et Trans (Inter LGBT), told Le Parisien: “Imposing a four-month period of abstinence on homosexuals wishing to donate blood is totally absurd and has always been seen as a form of discrimination, especially when we know that donations are in short supply.
“There must obviously be a health safety framework to respect, but it must not be based on the sexual orientation of the donor.”
The wave of rule changes has come as blood shortages were reported across Europe, with donations decreasing during the coronavirus pandemic.