Gay and bisexual men who have recovered from coronavirus may be excluded from donating plasma to a new trial hoping to treat those suffering with the virus, the NHS has confirmed.
Doctors at Guys and St Thomas’s hospital in London will start using plasma from recovered patients as a therapy to help others fight off the virus, which has claimed more than 242,000 lives worldwide and lead to more than 28,000 deaths in the UK.
However, male patients who have slept with other men within the last three months will be barred from donating the white blood cell-rich blood component due to restrictions on transfusions first introduced to stem the spread of HIV in the 1970s and 1980s.
The move, first reported by ITV, follows blood donation rules established by the Department of Health, which state any man who has had oral or anal sex with another man must wait for three months before donating.
NHS Blood and Transplant guidance says men who have sex with men “are at an increased risk of acquiring certain infections through sex”.
A spokesperson for the NHS department told The Independent: “We will initially be using the current donor selection guidelines although we will keep this under review.
“The guidelines are there to protect the health of the donor and the recipient. Under the current guidelines, men must wait three months after having oral or anal sex with another man.
“We appreciate this deferral can feel disappointing if you want to save lives. Separately to the convalescent plasma trial, we are working with LGBT+ groups to explore whether we might be able to introduce a more individualised risk assessment for blood donation.”
First introduced during the health crisis caused by a rise in HIV and Hepatitis B cases some fifty years ago, the policy initially saw men face a lifetime ban if they had engaged in oral or anal sex with other men over concern the viruses may be passed on to vulnerable patients.
The ban was reduced to apply only to those who had been sexually active in the last 12 months in 2011, and then reduced further to those who had been active in the last three months in 2017 as testing methods improved.
Laura Russell, director of policy at Stonewall, said: “It’s really upsetting that gay and bi men who want to help in the fight against coronavirus are being prevented from doing so.
“The decision on whether people should be able to give blood or plasma should be based on individual risk assessments, not on people’s sexual orientation.”
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