Belgium wants to make it easier for gay men to donate blood

Belgium wants to make it easier for gay men to donate blood
Photo by Nguyễn Hiệp on Unsplash

As France and Greece are lifting their bans on blood donations from men who have had sex with men, Belgium's socialist parties are re-tabling a bill to relax the current restrictions in a similar way.

According to the current regulations in Belgium, men who have had sex with another man are currently excluded from donating blood for 12 months after the last sexual contact with another man.

"This proposal is based on the fact that techniques for detecting transmissible diseases have evolved and various European and international bodies, including the Court of Justice of the European Union, have highlighted the unjustified nature of these exclusions," said Christophe Lacroix, MP for the Walloon socialist PS party, in the Chamber on Thursday.

Straight people who declare that they have engaged in risky sexual behaviour - such as multiple sexual partners - are also excluded, but for a period of just four months. "Last November, the Superior Council of Health itself considered that it was perfectly possible to reduce the exclusion period [for gay men] to four months as well," Lacroix added.

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Two bills, one already tabled by the PS party, the other by DéFI, had already been tabled at the beginning of the legislature. "There are no groups or populations at risk, there are only risky practices that can concern every citizen, regardless of their sexual orientation," added socialist MP Hervé Rigot, author of the new proposal, in a statement.

When asked about the proposal, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke called the new bill an "important initiative."

In France, all people, "regardless of their sexual orientation," will be able to give blood from 16 March, announced French Health Minister Olivier Véran on Twitter on Monday. "We are ending an inequality that was no longer justified."

Officially, the country's ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood, which had been in place since 1983 over fears of the spread of AIDS, was already lifted in July 2016.

However, potential donors were still required to adhere to a period of sexual abstinence before being allowed to donate. That period was initially set at one year before it was cut to four months in 2019. From March, it will be removed entirely, meaning that the conditions will now be the same for gay as for straight men.

In Greece, a ministerial decree was signed by the country's Health Minister Thanos Plevris, which removes "homosexual acts" from the list of criteria barring someone from donating blood, according to local media. The existing blood donation document banned any man who has had sex with another man at any point since 1977 from donating blood.

Before France and Greece, a number of countries, including Spain, Italy, Israel and recently the United Kingdom, already updated their conditions for blood donation in similar ways.

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