The decision from the Swedish Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) heralds a relaxation of a total ban on blood-giving for gay and bisexual men, with the new rules set to take effect on March 1st next year.
Fredrik Nilsson, 29, of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL), expressed satisfaction that the rules are set to change.
“I think it’s wrong to discriminate against an entire group. It’s good that it’s becoming fairer,” he said.
But he also had reservations as to whether the rule change would make a real difference.
“They’ve included an awful lot of conditions, to the extent that in reality it will be almost impossible to give blood should I wish to do so,” he told the TT news agency.
In fixing the period during which gay men must steer clear of sexual intercourse at one year, the health board has backtracked on its own proposal for a six-month period of abstinence. The switch from six months to twelve follows criticism from the majority of interested parties involved in the consultation process.
The Medical Products Agency (Läkemedelsverket), for example, pointed out that blood from Sweden would no longer be approved for sale under existing EU directives if the country were to allow gay men to donate plasma.
“The way things look now it’s possible that blood centres will have to have two separate lines, whereby they block plasma from men who have sex with men so that it doesn’t go to the industry,” said health board spokesperson Monica Axelsson.
While it can take some weeks for sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and hepatitis to appear in test results, the health board is of the opinion that there are no medical grounds for a permanent blood donor ban for homosexual men.
Donors have to fill in a detailed form about their health, including their sexual history, before being approved as donors. All donated blood is then tested before being used, said Axelsson.
Previous survey results have also shown that many homosexual men have given blood in Sweden despite the ban.
“People haven’t told the truth,” said Monica Axelsson, explaining how some men had skirted the regulations.