More Black people will be able to give blood after the government announced it would remove a “discriminatory” safety question from its donor forms.
Donors preparing to give blood will no longer be asked whether they have recently had sex with someone who has previously been sexually active in regions where HIV is endemic. This includes most of sub-Saharan Africa.
Currently, if a person answers “yes” their donation must be deferred until three months have elapsed since their last sexual contact with that partner. This, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has admitted, can prevent Black Africans and other people in long-term relationships from donating blood.
The change has been approved by scientific advisers, who have deemed it safe and will conduct a review 12 months after it is implemented. However, other questions targeting behaviour by individuals, like recently travelling to high-HIV areas, will remain.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said in a statement: “This is another progressive step forward, focusing on individual behaviours, rather than blanket deferrals, and reducing limitations for people to donate blood.
“This will make it easier for black donors in particular to donate blood, ultimately saving lives.”
The DHSC’s move was welcomed by the National Aids Trust, which said the question being removed was “actively discriminatory”. Its chief executive, Deborah Gold, said: “The science is clear that this is unnecessary and does nothing to improve safety. Instead, it actively prevents much needed donors coming forward to give blood.”
The department said it hoped removing barriers to donation would boost stocks of blood with the rare Ro sub-type, which is more likely to be found among people of Black African, Caribbean or mixed heritage, and is key to helping people with sickle cell disease.
In the summer, the government also changed the rules on blood donations by gay and bisexual men. Instead of asking a donor if they are a man who has sex with men, everyone will be quizzed on their sex lives. Anyone who has had the same sexual partner for three months can now give blood.
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