Norway suspends blood donation reform for gay men

Published 20 February 2024
- By Editorial Staff
Blood bank directors believe that blood recipients should not be exposed to unnecessary risks.

In Norway, gay men were due to start donating blood under the same conditions as others this year, but now health authorities say the issue needs further study.

Meanwhile, a senior doctor at the country’s blood bank has criticized the relaxation of requirements, saying the decision was made for political reasons and contradicts the blood bank’s well-established precautionary principle.

In 2017, men who have sex with men were allowed to donate blood in Norway for the first time, but under the strict condition that they had not had sex for at least a year. Last summer, however, health authorities announced that they had decided to introduce similar conditions for gay men as those already in place for other groups.

At present, a six-month quarantine applies to anyone who has had a new sexual partner, and it was decided that this would also apply to gay men, with the Norwegian health authorities judging that the risk for homosexuals living in a monogamous relationship was no higher than for others. The idea was that the new blood donation rules would come into force at the end of the year, but now the Norwegian Directorate of Health and the Ministry of Health and Care Services have announced that the change will be postponed indefinitely.

– Maybe we thought the work would be easier than it turned out to be, Health Director Bjørn Guldvog told Norwegian state broadcaster NRK. We should have anchored this better with the specialized environments.

“Political decision”

Lise Sofie Nissen-Meyer, chief physician at the blood bank in Oslo, was commissioned by the transfusion service’s quality council, together with three colleagues, to make a professional assessment of the possibility of allowing homosexuals to donate blood. They recommend waiting to introduce the new rules until data from other countries is available. At the same time, Nissen-Meyer says their views were not heard before the decision was made last summer.

“The decision was made on a political basis”, she wrote in an email to the state broadcaster.

Nissen-Meyer explains that those selected to donate blood in Norway are chosen because they are particularly healthy and also have a low risk of infection in their blood. Patients should not be exposed to the unnecessary risk of creating a new group of potential blood donors.

“This goes against the well-established precautionary principle of blood banks”, she says.

Need to minimize risks

Einar Kristoffersen from Haukeland Hospital in Bergen also points out that the basic principle is to minimize the risks for those who receive blood.

– Our goal is not to exclude groups. Our goal is to minimize the risk for those who receive blood and to make it as safe as possible for donors, he says, adding that the right tools are needed to ensure patient safety.

FRI, a membership organization for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in Norway, understands the problem, but says gay men are a group that has waited a long time to donate blood.

– We would have liked the process to have gone further, says Hilde Arntsen, the organization’s director.

Sweden also wants to change the rules for gay men to donate blood, which the government will report on this fall.

TNT is truly independent!

We don’t have a billionaire owner, and our unique reader-funded model keeps us free from political or corporate influence. This means we can fearlessly report the facts and shine a light on the misdeeds of those in power.

Consider a donation to keep our independent journalism running…