Australians have not been at risk of contracting HIV from donated blood (or blood products) since the earliest years of the epidemic.
The Australian Red Cross Blood Service is responsible for ensuring the safety of the blood supply for transfusions and other medical treatments. To minimise the risk of transmitting HIV and other blood-borne viruses (BBVs) via the blood supply, the Blood Service screens donated blood and has also developed donation deferral policies which restrict donations from people who are considered to be in high-risk groups.
The service uses a questionnaire to screen potential donors for BBV transmission risk. Questions relate to male to male sexual activity, injecting, tattooing and body piercing. Potential donors must sign a declaration that they have answered the questions honestly and to the best of their knowledge.
Anyone who has engaged in male to male sex in the previous 12 months is currently not allowed to donate blood until a period of 12 months has elapsed since their last male to male sex. The rationale is that gay men and other men who have sex with men are a population with relatively high HIV-prevalence, making up the majority of people diagnosed with HIV in Australia.
People who have engaged in sex work within the last 12 months and people who have had a sexual partner who has ever injected themselves with drugs not prescribed by a doctor or dentist are also deferred from blood donation for 12 months. (A person who has ever injected drugs is precluded for life from donating blood).
The Australian Red Cross Blood Service deferral policies relating to sexual activity were reviewed by the Therapeutic Good Authority (TGA) in 2013. The service recommended that the deferral period be reduced from 12 to 6 months.
The TGA rejected the service’s recommendation, although there is no evidence that a 12 month deferral provides any additional protection to the blood supply than does a six month deferral, especially given the reliability of the HIV testing currently used by the Blood Service, and the short window period between testing and results.