Switzerland to lift ban on gay, bisexual men giving blood

Switzerland's 1977 ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM) preceded the discovery of HIV (AFP Photo/INTI OCON) (AFP/File)

Geneva (AFP) - Switzerland on Tuesday said it would lift its 40-year ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood but will still prohibit donations from those who have had sex in the last year.

In shifting to a 12-month abstinence requirement for donors, Swiss guidelines fell in line with other European countries like Britain and France, which implemented bans following the discovery of HIV in the early 1980s.

The policy change was approved by the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products (Swissmedic), a federal regulator, following an appeal from Swiss Transfusion SRC, a division of the Red Cross responsible for blood products.

Switzerland's 1977 ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM) preceded the discovery of HIV.

It was triggered by fears of other pathogens within the gay and bisexual male population, although concern over HIV's spread helped sustain the policy.

In a statement, Swissmedic noted that MSM in Switzerland are still disproportionately at risk of contracting HIV, accounting for roughly half of all new cases in the country.

But the guidelines "will not lead to an increased risk for recipients of blood transfusions", the regulator said, adding that testing improvements have made it dramatically easier to detect infections.

Enforcing the one-year deferral relies entirely on prospective donors being honest about their recent sexual activity, and Swissmedic urged people to answer "truthfully" on the mandatory pre-donation questionnaire.

For Swiss Transfusion chief Rudolf Schwabe, Tuesday's policy shift marked "a first change to discriminatory regulation" even if the new rules are "far from perfect."

He echoed calls from elsewhere in Europe for blood donation guidelines to be completely detached from sexual orientation and focused strictly on discouraging donors who engage in high risk behaviour, whether they are gay or straight.

Swissmedic said the new rules will come into effect on July 1.