People need to meet certain criteria before they can donate blood in Aotearoa. So, what are the rules?
New Zealand needs more blood donors.
Last year, the New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) said it needed 40,000 new blood donors to meet growing demand for blood and plasma.
However, there are still certain groups of people excluded from giving blood in Aotearoa.
Gay and bisexual men
Men who have had sex with a man within the past three months are currently not eligible to donate blood.
This rule was put in place to prevent the risk of passing on undetected HIV. Blood screening processes may not pick up very recent HIV infections.
However, new research from the University of Auckland shows people in monogamous relationships who haven’t had anal sex with new or multiple partners would not pose a risk to the blood supply – and could boost New Zealand’s eligible pool of blood donors if the rules were updated.
Blood donor criteria has been changed in other countries such as Canada and the UK in the last few years, allowing gay men to donate blood if they have only had sex with a long-term partner within that three-month timeframe.
The University of Auckland study said three times the current number of gay and bisexual men could donate blood in Aotearoa if the country’s rules were aligned with those in the UK and Canada.
The NZBS said it was committed to working towards a more inclusive, individualised risk assessment when assessing new blood donors.
Certain people who have lived in parts of the UK and Europe
People who lived in the UK, France or Ireland for six months or more between 1980 and 1996 are still currently excluded from donating blood in New Zealand – but not for much longer.
Medsafe approved a NZBS recommendation that this restriction on blood donations be removed late last year.
NZBS is working to implement that change. People who have been impacted by this rule can register their interest online to donate blood once those restrictions are officially lifted.
The restriction had been in place for more than 20 years due to concerns over the human form of mad cow disease known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). Those infected with the disease can potentially pass it on through their blood.
Since 1996, 177 people have died from vCJD worldwide, however the risk of infection from a blood transfusion is now considered negligible.
Other restricted groups
Sex workers are excluded from donating blood, as are people who have lived in a country considered to be high risk for HIV infection. The NZBS has an online tool for checking donor eligibility after travelling.
Pregnant people can’t donate blood either. After pregnancy, they must stand down from donating blood for as many months as their pregnancy lasted.
Eligibility rules for donating blood
The NZBS has a long list of eligible criteria for donors on its website, however some basic rules apply. Those are:
- New donors can donate after their 16th birthday and before their 71st birthday. Existing donors can donate until their 75th birthday and potentially until their 81st birthday if authorised by a NZBS medical officer.
- Donors must weigh 50kg or more. Those aged 25 or younger have additional height and weight criteria.
- People who have had Covid-19 need to wait seven days after their symptoms clear or following their positive Covid test before they can donate blood.
- There is also a three-month stand-down from donating blood or plasma if someone has had a new tattoo, including cosmetic tattoos like microblading.
- The three-month stand-down also applies to new body piercings or cosmetic injectables unless they were performed by a registered health professional.