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Motion: Blood Donor Restrictions

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:01): I move:

That this council—

1. Notes that since 1996 South Australia has had a deferral period for gay and bisexual men looking to be donors of whole blood, meaning they cannot donate blood unless it has been 12 months since their last sexual contact with a male partner;

2. Recognises that the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has recently approved an application by Australian Red Cross Lifeblood (Lifeblood), which proposes to reduce the deferral period for donors of whole blood from 12 months to three months since their last sexual contact; and

3. Supports the removal of this restriction and calls on the Marshall state government to effect its implementation in South Australia so that more people can donate blood regardless of their sexuality or sexual activity.

We have recently passed a milestone of World Blood Donor Day and I am pleased that in some jurisdictions we are finally seeing long, overdue reforms removing the stigma that has been unnecessary for health reasons for some period of time. In Australia, of course, there is largely, across all jurisdictions, a 12-month deferral period for donors whose sexual practices, according to the Department of Health, put them at increased risk of acquiring infectious diseases that can be transmitted by blood cells or tissue. This deferral period applies to a number of donor groups and is based on sexual activity in terms of risk factors and includes male to male sex and sex work.

Over the past few years, a number of international moves have been afoot to reduce these now archaic and erroneous periods of deferral from that 12 months. For example, in November 2017 the UK began incrementally moving from that 12 months to a three-month period for deferral for all sexual activity-based risks, including male to male sex. Canada and the USA respectively have done the same: Canada in June 2019 and the USA in April 2020.

Moves are afoot to move away from these historic deferrals and prohibitions on who can donate lifesaving whole blood. At the moment, the Red Cross Lifeblood submission has put to the TGA that a significant number of currently prohibited donors should be able to change that deferral period from the 12 months to three months.

That includes male donors who have engaged in male to male sex; female donors who have had sex with a man who has had sex with a man; transgender donors who have had sexual contact with a man; sex workers, male, female or transgender; overseas sexual contact with a resident of a HIV high-prevalence country; as well as IV drug use and those who have had sexual contact with a partner who is known to be infected with a bloodborne virus such as the range including HIV.

At the moment, the TGA has evaluated that application and it has accepted the science here—the science which stands against the stigma that has been applied to this group of potential donors. Following that, there has been a regulatory decision to accept the proposal of Lifeblood, also known more colloquially as the Red Cross, to reduce that deferral period.

Unlike in Victoria, where my colleague Greens MP Dr Tim Read has approached the Minister for Health—Dr Tim Read, who is the state parliament's member for Brunswick in that jurisdiction does have a public health background and he does know his stuff when it comes to this. He is both a politician and a clinician, to reflect on some words made earlier by the Minister for Health and Wellbeing. He has also noted that community attitudes have shifted and that the community would tolerate more detailed questioning to ensure that those who seek to donate blood are not unnecessarily prohibited from doing so.

We know that blood does not have a long shelf life and that we always need blood and blood donors. To continue to discriminate against groups, such as men who have sex with men in the last 12 months, is not only stigmatising, it is not best health practice to base our approaches to this issue on the science and not on the stigma.

I am very pleased that their minister, Martin Foley, has cooperated and worked not only with Dr Tim Read, Greens MP, but also has taken up the TGA's shift and in Victoria they have now moved to reduce the deferral period down to three months. This motion simply asks the South Australian government to do the same.

The TGA has cleared the path for you, the Red Cross in their guise as Lifeblood has put the science to the TGA, and has had that accepted. It is time to remove the stigma that prohibits some in our community from donating blood simply because of their sexuality or sexual activity. Many decades have passed since particularly the HIV AIDS then pandemic. We should move with the times, not simply for the best health outcomes to ensure the most blood donors possible but also to reduce the ongoing stigma against these particular groups in our society.

I know that the Red Cross have not been the ones who have held this particular position but I also know that they are the ones at the coalface who have to ask these questions of potential donors and deny potential donors.

I have told this story before: I remember a few decades ago, one day donating blood and being asked the script questions, 'Have you had sex with a gay man in the last 12 months?' to which my response was, 'How would I know, because if he is having sex with me, he wouldn't be telling me he is gay.' It was a flippant comment. They disregarded my flippant comment and took my blood. Had I been a man, they likely would not have, or most certainly would not have.

Technically, they probably should not have taken my blood on that day because we had this stigmatising and non-scientific script that the good people of the Red Cross have to follow day in, day out. It is time that this government showed some leadership and that we ended this discrimination. It is nonsensical in 2020 to continue it when it is not required by science, and other jurisdictions have shown us quite clearly the pathway forward. With those few words, I commend the motion to the council.

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