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France lifts ban on gay men donating blood

French Health minister Marisol Touraine, File March 2015.
French Health minister Marisol Touraine, File March 2015. Reuters/Charles Platiau

The French Health ministry announced on Wednesday the lifting of the ban on homosexual blood donors. The lifting of the ban was a promise made by President François Hollande in his presidential campaign.

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« Giving blood is an act of generosity, of civic responsibility and the donor’s sexual orientation cannot be a condition”, French Health minister Marisol Touraine said on Wednesday.

The ban set in 1983 was to prevent the spread of AIDS after hundreds of people died in the 1980s following a HIV-tainted blood scandal.

The contaminated blood was then distributed by the French national blood centre leading to infection of many people.

Although several civil servants and the head of the transfusion service were fined and jailed, the issue continues to remain sensitive in France.

“While respecting patient safety, we are lifting a taboo”, added Touraine.

The lifting of the ban will happen in stages and start next year.

At first in spring 2016, donation of whole blood (red cells, plasma and platelets) will be open to homosexuals if they had no sex with another man for 12 months.

The same 12-month waiting window was recommended last May in the United States although human rights groups criticise the measure as discriminatory.

In the current French system, 10 to 15 blood donors are diagnosed HIV positive each year.

The residual risk is 1 out of 3,500,000 donors and the last case of HIV-tainted blood contamination occurred in 2002.

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