All blood donors will receive the same questionnaires to fill out starting early next year to determine whether their blood or plasma is safe to use. The blood banks will not differentiate between donors who are gay, straight or another sexual orientation, said Sanquin, the foundation responsible for a safe blood supply in the Netherlands.
Sexual behavior will still be a factor when considering the risk of blood-borne infections. Currently, men who have sex with men are only allowed to donate if they have been in a monogamous relationship for an extended time or if they have not had sex for the four months prior to donating. That rule does not apply to heterosexuals.
However, the policy aimed at men who have sex with men must come to an end, according to Sanquin. A donor’s sexual partners should no longer matter. Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said the decision is good news in a letter he wrote to the Tweede Kamer. He said it was extremely important that the new standard take effect on January 1 at the latest.
The implementation still needs time, according to Sanquin. The organization works together with Prothya Biosolutions Netherlands BV, which produces medicine from the collected blood plasma. Due to the new assessment of sexual risk behavior, Prothya will have to adjust its registration dossier with the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Only after this is approved by the EMA can the equal treatment of all blood donors be introduced, said Prothya.
The blood banks will also have to make adjustments and train all employees.
Interest group including gay rights advocacy COC said it was “happy” with the developments. “From the beginning of 2024, men who have sex with men will no longer be discriminated against when donating blood,” the organization concluded. It has argued for this advancement for years, said COC chair Astrid Oosenbrug, who called the situation a breakthrough.
Politicians and public opinion has already been at odds with the policy of discriminating against male blood donors who have sex with men, but the organizations overseeing blood transfusions cited their concerns about safety. Sanquin developed the new policy on the basis of scientific research “which provides concrete tools for implementing this change.” The change had been under consideration for some time, but research in collaboration with the University of Maastricht was delayed.
Although the NVHP, the Dutch association of haemophilia patients, said it was in favor of a freer policy, it is not convinced that it can be implemented completely safely. The patient association for those with a coagulation disorder therefore wants an independent supervisor or inspectorate. “We see it as the minister’s responsibility to build in external monitoring of blood safety,” NVHP chair Arnoud Plat said. “Blood products must be maximally safe.”