Galway man Tomás Heneghan this week became the first openly gay man to donate blood in the Republic of Ireland after Minister for Health, Simon Harris lifted the lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM ).
The change in the blood donation ruling means a man who last had sex with another man more than 12 months ago will now be able to donate blood, if he meets the other blood donor selection criteria.
Heneghan said he had been fighting tooth and nail to push the Irish State on the change.
“Blood donation is about giving an extraordinary gift to a stranger. A middle-aged shop worker, a schoolchild, a newborn baby, a pregnant mother of two. Blood donations save lives and secure the health of thousands each year in this country. It may feel like the smallest of acts but it is an act which can change the lives of so many for the better.
“I am here today to give my eleventh blood donation. I am here as the first open man who has had sex with another man to donate blood in the Republic of Ireland in over 30 years.
“I have been an active donor since I was 18 and never imagined I would abruptly stop, especially when my blood was not only healthy and safe, but also in such consistently high demand from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS ).”
Heneghan revealed that he wrote to the blood service, TDs, senators, ministers, the Minister for Health of the day, James Reilly, and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny back in 2014 but his requests had fallen on deaf ears.
“Some could do nothing, while many, including the Taoiseach and former Health Minister Reilly, saw no reason to push for a change in policies, choosing instead to defend the lifetime ban on men who have sex with men, using statistics on HIV.”
Notwithstanding the change in the lifetime ban for men who have sex with men, Heneghan believes the alteration in the law does not go far enough.
“Although that action has seen the back of the lifetime ban on donations from men who have sex with men (MSM ), the change has certainly not gone far enough, or towards the most scientific evidence available.
“I believe it is now past time that the Minister for Health take action and review the operations of the IBTS and I call on him to initiate an independent and detailed review of the policies, activities and management of the service, including communication methods with donors, record management and policy formation. A hands-off approach by health ministers, as has been evident to date, has not worked and will continue to fail both blood donation recipients, as well as donors themselves.
“I also call on the Mmnister, as a matter of urgency and under the most scientific evidence, to remove the unnecessary, discriminatory and disproportionate 12 month deferral on men who have had sex with men and follow international practice of individual assessment of blood donors.
“Alternatively, the only other scientific option would be to implement a donation ban on any donor who has had sex in the previous three months. This is due to a ‘window period’ in which the IBTS argues HIV can be undetectable through current testing methods.
Commenting on the changes, Minister Harris said; “The IBTS provides a safe, reliable and robust blood service to the Irish health system and has the necessary programmes and procedures in place to protect both donors and recipients of blood and blood products. Furthermore, the IBTS will continue to keep all deferral policies under active review in the light of scientific evidence, emerging infections and international experience.
“The change to a one-year deferral for MSM is supported by the most current scientific evidence available and brings Ireland into line with similar policies in the UK, Canada and elsewhere.”