HIV infection from gay blood donation likely "once every 5769 years"

This media release was issued by the TGLRG on 15.8.08.

 

The Tribunal hearing a case against the Australian Red Cross gay blood ban has been told that if the current bar on gay blood donation is lifted, a single HIV-positive blood donation from a gay man will slip through clinical screening in Tasmania once every 197 years.

If only gay men who have safe sex are allowed to donate, as sought by the man who initiated the current gay blood ban challenge, Michael Cain, that figure decreases to once every 5769 years.

The startling figures were put by Mr Cain's lawyer, Peter Tree SC, during today's cross examination of Canadian risk assessment expert and Red Cross witness, Dr William Leiss, and were based directly on statistics provided to the Tribunal by Dr Leiss.

Dr Leiss is the author of a Canadian study which upheld that country's lifetime ban on gay blood donors, and declared that a one year deferral like Australia's would

"...constitute a covert and unacceptable risk transfer from male homosexual and bisexual community to the community of blood recipients. Such a transfer would be both unreasonable and unfair."

During cross examination Mr Tree pointed out that Australia has a relatively safe blood supply despite Dr Leiss' predictions.

Also today, evidence from US mathematical epidemiologist, Dr Travis Porco, was presented to the Tribunal showing that mathematical models about male-to-male sex risk relied on by risk assessors like Dr Leiss are flawed.

According to Dr Porco's statement,

"Because HIV risk behaviours are relatively well understood, it is possible to classify men along a spectrum of risk (with) uninfected MSMs who have been...in an exclusive monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner at very low or even zero risk.

"It is (my) concern that indefinite deferment of donation from very low risk MSMs provides only illusory safety, while other practices which have allowed HIV-positive donations to occur have been continued."

Evidence provided on Monday by US epidemiologist and bio-ethicist, Dr Scott Halpern, alerted the Tribunal to the alarming fact that 1 in 100 people who are infused with blood older than 14 days will die, and that 13% of blood is older than 14 days when it leaves the Australian Red Cross collection centres.

Mr Tree asked Dr Leiss if this was a far greater risk than that posed by gay men who practise safe sex in monogamous relationships.

Dr Leiss said he could not respond.

The hearings continue on Monday with evidence from Dr Paul Holland and the architect of Australia's HIV response, Mr Bill Bowtell.

The gay blood donation case instigated by Michael Cain began last Thursday and will continue until the end of this month.

Mr Cain is seeking a blood donation policy which screens donors for the safety of their sexual activity rather than the gender of their sexual partner.

For more information contact Rodney Croome on 0409 010 668 or Michael Cain on 0400 734 798.

For more on gay blood donation visit www.gayblooddonation.org



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