A nurse holds a bag of blood (unit) at a blood donor center in Brewers Hall in London, Britain. File Photo by Facundo Arrixabalaga/EPA
Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Britain on Monday lifted a ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men amid the pandemic.
The British government announced the "landmark change to blood donation criteria," which will be implemented by summer 2021, in a press release.
"We have campaigned for over six years for the restrictions on men who have sex with men donating blood to be updated and warmly welcome this announcement," founder Ethan Spibey of FreedomToDonate, said in a statement. "This means the U.K. has one of the world's most progressive blood donation policies and more people than ever will be able to safely donate for those who need it."
The move lifts the blanket ban against any man donating blood within three months of having had sex with another man, and focuses instead on individual behaviors.
Under the new policy, men will be able to donate blood within three months of having had sex with men if they have only been with one sexual partner and have been with the partner for more than three months.
"We want to see a blood donation system that allows the greatest number of people to donate safely," Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley said in a statement. "This change will help ensure more gay and bi men can donate blood, and represents an important first step towards a donation selection policy entirely based on individualized assessment of risk."
The British policy prior to lifting the ban required that men abstain from sex with another man for three months before donating.
"This landmark change to blood donation is safe and it will allow many more people, who have previously been excluded by donor selection criteria, to take the opportunity to save lives," Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement. "This is a positive step and recognizes individuals for the actions they take, rather than their sexual preference."
The policy change follows recommendations from the Advisory Committee for the Safety of Blood Tissues and Organs and investigation by the "For Assessment of Individualized Risk" steering group.
The steering group led by NHS Blood and Transport, Britain blood services and LGBT charities recommended a policy that would identify a wider range of "highest risk behaviors" regardless of sexuality after extensive research since 2019.
"By closely examining the latest evidence relating to blood donation and sexual behavior, we have been able to bring forward more inclusive policy to allow people to safely donate blood to save lives," Minister for Blood Donation Lord Bethell said in a statement.
Currently, the United States policy still has a three month deferral period for men who have sex with men to donate.
The U.S. deferral period for men having sex with men was 12 months prior to April when the Food and Drug Administration reduced the deferral period amid the urgent need for blood due to the pandemic.
A lifetime ban on men who have sex with men donating blood was put in place in the United States in 1977 amid the HIV/AIDS crisis. It was replaced with the 12-month deferral period about five years ago.