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Another Blood Shortage, But Almost 300,000 Australians Can't Donate

Once again, Australia is in danger of running out of blood, and yet almost 300,000 members of the public are unable to donate thanks to what advocates say is outdated evidence.

The Australian Red Cross Blood Service launched its 'blood blitz' on Thursday, calling on 4500 more Australians to donate vital blood and plasma over the Christmas and New Year period.

The week between the holidays is when platelet stocks -- the part of the blood responsible for clotting -- are most at risk of running out.

Platelets are vital for the 13,000 people diagnosed with blood cancers such as leukaemia or lymphoma, or those suffering from internal bleeding, but due to a very short shelf-life, donations require an ongoing supply from donors.

The Blood Cross says 4,500 donors are needed to bolster supplies this festive season. Photo: Getty.

"It takes blood donations from four people to make just one bag of platelets for patients, and they only last for five days so we can't stockpile them ahead of the holidays," said Blood Service spokesperson Helen Walsh.

"Timing is critical, and the period between Boxing Day and New Year is when platelet stocks are most at risk with blood donors constantly needed to ensure patients get this vital product."

Yet the Blood Service still won't accept donations from men who have had sex with men in the last 12 months, a time frame advocates say is outdated and excessive.

It should be "significantly" reduced, says the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO).

"The 12-month deferral period for men who have sex with men is excessive and inconsistent with expert advice," a spokesperson told 10 daily.

"It needlessly excludes too many people from donation."

Sexually active gay and bisexual men are prevented from donating for 12 months. Photo: Getty.

There are just over 280,000 non-heterosexual men in Australia over the age of 18, according to a 2018 Australian Population Studies report from Charles Sturt University.

While a number of these men may be ineligible for other reasons -- such as being over 70 years old or having gotten a tattoo in the last four months -- it's still a significant amount of the population unable to donate.

READ MORE: HIV Diagnoses Rates On The Rise For Heterosexual Australians

Last year, the United Kingdom dramatically reduced the time men had to wait after sex to donate blood from 12 months to three, in line with improved blood infection testing measures.

The AFAO would like to see a similar reduction in Australia, and a number of campaigns and petitions to that effect have been launched without success.

The matter was even brought to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Tribunal in 2008 by Launceston man Michael Cain, who claimed he was being discriminated against for being in a same-sex relationship.

Six years later, and after extensive independent review, the Blood Service recommended that sexually active gay and bisexual men be able to donate blood after six months.

However, that was rejected by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

"We are disappointed with the decision as we believe the evidence shows that it would be safe to decrease the deferral period to six months," the Blood Service said at the time.

"It there is notable change in any factors that bear on the deferral period, we will carry out further review."

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au