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IKEA and Microsoft join call for Germany to relax ban on gay men giving blood

BERLIN – A group of 13 companies including IKEA and Microsoft have called on the German government to relax a ban requiring gay and bisexual men to abstain from sex for a year before donating blood as the coronavirus crisis puts pressure on supplies.

The companies, which also included software group SAP and train operator Deutsche Bahn, published an open letter asking medical authorities to ease restrictions “to bring together the goal of security in blood donations and the demands for freedom from discrimination”.

Germany currently requires men to refrain from having sex with other men for a year before donating blood.

The call comes as more countries face pressure during the pandemic to lift bans on blood donations imposed during the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic, with medical experts and LGBT+ groups calling these policies discriminatory and outdated.

“The HIV risk of blood donors should be judged based on their individual sexual behaviour and not on their sexual orientation,” Barbara Thiel, head of diversity and inclusion at German industrial conglomerate Thyssenkrupp, said on Monday.

Germany’s Federal Ministry of Health was not immediately available for comment. 

Rules on blood donations from gay and bisexual men vary globally.

Britain and Canada have a three-month waiting period. The United States cut its deferral period to three months from 12 months this month due to dwindling supplies, and Australia looks set to follow suit.

Austria, however, has a 12-month deferral period, the waiting period in Taiwan is five years, and Singapore and Greece are among the countries with outright bans on men who have same-sex sexual relations from donating blood. 

Countries such as Spain, Italy or Portugal do not split blood donors on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Dominik Weh, a partner at management consultancy Oliver Wyman, one of the signatories of the letter published Friday, said other countries showed “protection and non-discriminatory handling of blood donation are compatible with each other”.

Jens Brandenburg, LGBT+ spokesman for the opposition centre-right FDP party, said life-saving blood supplies were running short in German hospitals.

“The spread of the coronavirus is lowering (people’s) readiness to donate blood,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Adrian Gonzalez, a 37-year-old medical researcher at The Charite hospital in Berlin, said existing technology and testing capacity were adequate to ensure the security of blood supplies.

“Six weeks should be the highest conservative approach, irrespective of gender or sexual orientation, and that is already quite conservative,” he said.

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