After more than two decades, people who were in the United Kingdom during the ‘mad cow disease’ outbreak can donate blood in Australia from today.
- The ban was lifted by the Therapeutic Drugs Administration in April
- Red Cross Lifeblood has since been working with its stakeholders on the implementation of that decision
- As of Monday, formerly ineligible people are able to donate
The outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy — commonly known as mad cow disease — in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s prompted Australia to ban blood donations from potentially affected people in December 2000.
But in April 2022 — almost 22-years later — the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved Red Cross Lifeblood to receive donations from people who lived in the UK between 1980 and 1996.
In the wake of that ruling from the TGA, Red Cross Lifeblood began working with its stakeholders on the implementation of the decision, and as of Monday, formerly ineligible people are able to donate.
Red Cross Lifeblood will mark the occasion at a press conference from 9.30am with the first donations.
Among the first donors will be Laurence and Judy Hibbert, who as parents of a child who needed blood transfusions for cancer treatment, have always wanted to donate, but couldn’t.
That changes from today.
What kind of difference will it make
Executive director of Donor Services for Red Cross Lifeblood, Cath Stone, said there were already 11 million Australians who are eligible to give blood, but only about half a million actually do.
She said it was not yet clear how many extra donors the lifting of the ban would unlock.
“We have a rough idea of numbers but we’re really looking forward to seeing all the people who have been interested in giving blood,” she said.
“It’s the number-one question we get about blood deferrals, so I think we’ll have more to say about numbers once we get through our implementation plan.
“This has been a strong question from those in the community that want to give blood.”
Advocate calls for reform of ‘discriminatory’ policy
The lifting on the ban on blood from the UK will likely heighten calls for other blood bans to be done away with.
Most recently, there has been a push to allow bisexual men, gay men, and trans women to donate.
Currently, this group cannot give blood in Australia if they have had sex with men in the past three months.
LGBTIQA+ advocate and Just Equal Australia spokesman Rodney Croome said it was time for that to change.
“It’s outdated, discriminatory and it means there are fewer blood donors available to save lives,” he said.
“The Red Cross Lifeblood Service is literally begging people to donate, yet they’re saying to gay men who are safe to donate, ‘We don’t want you’. It’s hard to see that as anything but discrimination.
“It no longer makes any sense. The rates of new HIV infections amongst gay men is going down in Australia, whereas the rates of infection amongst heterosexual people is going up.”
Canada this year removed the ban on blood donations from gay men, with the country’s health department describing it as “a significant milestone toward a more inclusive blood donation system.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the change was long overdue, saying the old approach was “discriminatory and wrong.”