"The deferral period is not due to sexual orientation, which is protected against
discrimination by the law, but rather to the higher prevalence of HIV among gay and
bisexual men in combination with the realities of their sexual behaviour," says Tony
Hughes Research Director for the Foundation.
The sexual partners of gay, bisexual and other men-who-have-sex-with-men in New
Zealand have an estimated 40 times greater prevalence of undiagnosed HIV
infection, compared to the sexual partners of heterosexuals.
While anal sex with a condom (used consistently and correctly) constitutes safe sex
there is still a very small risk of HIV transmission if a condom breaks or through oral
sex under very rare circumstances. As the New Zealand AIDS Foundationís safe sex
guidelines have always made clear, it is risk reduction, not risk elimination.
The New Zealand Blood Service defers groups of people at higher potential risk of
infection prior to donation rather than on a case-by-case basis because of the
impracticality of assessing individual cases and the difficulty of verifying a personís
actual risk profile.
A number of studies have, for instance, found undiagnosed HIV infections among
gay and bisexual men who had strong convictions about their status being HIV
negative, or who believed they were in a mutually monogamous relationship, when in
fact they were not.
Risk reduction through condom use for anal sex will end the sexually-transmitted HIV
epidemic among gay and bisexual men if practised consistently. However risk
reduction is not sufficient to fully protect the blood supply, which instead requires a
higher bar of 100% risk elimination to ensure blood safety.
A higher bar for the blood supply is required because of the extremely high risk of
infection from a blood transfusion, and because people in urgent need of blood have
little or no choice as to whether they accept blood given to them.
The deferral of gay and bisexual men is now in line with other population groups who
have an equivalent risk of undiagnosed HIV infection, such as heterosexual men and
women who have recently arrived from sub-Saharan Africa (even those who have
been celibate for five years). For the first time, gay and bisexual men who have not
had oral or anal sex in the previous five years will now be able to donate blood
Group-based rather than individual-based policies are also practised in other areas.
For example, all young male drivers pay higher insurance premiums because of
statistical evidence of a high accident rate - regardless of how responsibly an
individual might usually drive. And anyone including vegetarians resident in the UK
for six months or more between 1980 and 1996 are not allowed to donate blood
because of an outbreak of variant CJD, (popularly known as Mad Cowís Disease) in