July 15. 2024. 7:20

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Czechia lifts ban on blood donation by gay men

New Czech regulation, which took effect on 1 July, allows gay men to donate blood, a practice previously prohibited.

The regulatory change, implemented by the Czech health ministry in cooperation with the local medical association, aligns with internationally accepted recommendations.

“Every healthy Czech who wants to help save lives by donating blood should have that opportunity. Our methodology considers the need for individual risk assessments related to sexual activities for each donor, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation,” said Czech Health Minister Vlastimil Válek.

Safety guaranteed

Válek emphasised that existing rules to ensure the safety of blood recipients remain unchanged, guaranteeing their maximum protection. The new regulation excludes individuals who have had protected or unprotected anal intercourse with a new sexual partner in the past four months, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Blood donors will continue to fill out a questionnaire before donating, where they disclose restrictions that may prevent them from donating blood. These include past illnesses, chronic diseases, or recent antibiotic use. Other reasons for exclusion include travel to certain high-risk countries, tattoos, or tick bites.

“I am convinced that by excluding gay men from donating blood, we have unnecessarily deprived ourselves of many potential donors. It is great news that it will no longer matter whether your sexual partner is a man or a woman, but whether you practice safe behaviours,” said Miloš Ulrich, a Czech local politician who was actively fighting against gay men discrimination when it comes to blood donations.

More donors needed

According to the Czech Red Cross, approximately 220,000 people donate blood in the country, with about 30,000 new donors joining each year.

Experts suggest that to adequately supply hospitals with blood, at least 300,000 regular donors are needed, along with about 5,000 additional new donors annually to compensate for age or illness-related donor attrition.

Blood from donors is used for transfusions or to create special preparations and medicines. Blood plasma, for example, helps patients with immune disorders or blood clotting issues, while blood transfusions are administered during surgeries, gastrointestinal bleeding, childbirth, or the treatment of neonatal jaundice.

The situation differs across the EU

Regarding EU legislation, Directive 2004/33/EC lays down technical requirements to prevent the transmission of diseases by blood and blood components, including deferral criteria for blood donors. This includes deferrals of persons whose sexual behaviour puts them at risk of acquiring infectious diseases.

When implementing these deferral criteria, it is up to each Member State to determine the types of sexual behaviour and the degree of risk involved, which may lead to a deferral of certain types of blood donors. This is based on current medical, scientific, and epidemiological knowledge and data, resulting in different approaches across the EU.

In the case of blood donation by men who have sex with men, both the non-discrimination principle and the principle of protecting public health included in EU treaties are applicable, the European Commission specifies.

According to ILGA-Europe, a non-governmental umbrella organisation fighting for equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community, hurdles remain, but an increasing number of EU countries are dismantling discriminatory practices.

In Germany, a law passed last year abolished the blanket exclusion of gay men from donating blood. The new law explicitly states that sexual orientation cannot be considered when deciding on a donor’s eligibility. France adopted a similar change in 2022. In the past several years, bans were lifted in Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovenia and Austria.

[By Aneta Zachová, Edited by Vasiliki Angouridi, Brian Maguire | Euractiv’s Advocacy Lab]

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