HIV infection from gay blood donors likely once every two centuries, lawyer claims

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The Anti-Discrimination Tribunal against the Australian Red Cross’ ban on gay blood donation heard today that HIV-infected blood from a gay man was likely to slip through screening only once in 197 years.

The Tasmanian tribunal was begun by gay would-be donor Michael Cain, who seeks to have the blanket ban lifted and replaced with a system of questioning donors about their sexual practices.

The statistic was put forward by Mr Cain’s lawyer, Peter Tree SC, during a cross examination of Red Cross witness and risk assessment expert Dr William Leiss, and was based on statistics provided to the Tribunal by Dr Leiss himself.

Mr Tree went on to claim that if only gay men who practice safe sex were allowed to donate, HIV infection from blood donated by a gay man would occur only once in every 5,769 years.

Dr Leiss is the author of a Canadian study which upheld that country’s lifetime ban on gay blood donors, and declared that a one year deferral like Australia’s would:

‘Constitute a covert and unacceptable risk transfer from male homosexual and bisexual community to the community of blood recipients.

‘Such a transfer would be both unreasonable and unfair.’

During the trial evidence from U.S. mathematical epidemiologist Dr Travis Porco was presented, which claimed that the mathematical models about the risk involved in gay sex used by Dr Leiss are flawed.

Dr Porco said:

‘Because HIV risk behaviours are relatively well understood, it is possible to classify men along a spectrum of risk, with uninfected men who have sex with men who have been… in an exclusive monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner at very low or even zero risk.

‘It is my concern that indefinite deferment of donation from very low risk men who have sex with men provides only illusory safety, while other practices which have allowed HIV-positive donations to occur have been continued.’

The Tribunal will continue on Monday with evidence from Dr Paul Holland and Bill Bowtell, the architect of Australia’s HIV response.