A new study aims to make blood donation fairer for gay, bisexual, takatāpui and other men who have sex with men. 

Currently, men who have sex with men are excluded from donating blood for three months since their last sexual activity - even if they were protected. 

The Sex and Prevention of Transmission Study (SPOTS), is being led by the University of Auckland in partnership with the University of Otago, and community organisations such as NZ AIDS Foundation, Body Positive, Te Whāriki Takapou and the NZ Blood Service. 

The researchers want to hear from men who have sex with men (MSM), including cis and trans men, who are 18 or older and live in Aotearoa. 

Trans women or non-binary people who have sex with MSM, or people who identify as gay, bisexual, queer or pansexual men but have never had sex with a man are encouraged to take part.

Participants can be of any HIV status, ethnicity, region, relationship status, out/not out, new to the scene or long-time members of the rainbow community, the researchers say.

SPOTS involves a survey and a dried blood spot.

Associate professor Dr Peter Saxton and lead investigator at the University of Auckland’s School of Population Health, says “MSM in Aotearoa are currently excluded from donating blood for three months since last sex, due to the HIV epidemic”. 

“But many MSM want to donate blood and see the current policy as discriminatory and unscientific, given recent advances in HIV prevention”

“The NZ Blood Service agrees that some MSM present a low risk for donating blood, but the organisation lacks evidence to improve the policy further. Our study will be the first to provide that evidence.” Saxton says.

Research assistant, Josh McCormack, says the study is taking a tikanga-based approach. 

“Actively respecting tikanga is entrenched in the kaupapa of SPOTS”, McCormack says. 

“For people who are providing a dried blood spot specimen there will be karakia over all specimens and people will have the option to have that specimen returned,” the 22 year-old student says.

“We’ve worked alongside Te Whāriki Takapou in co-governance to ensure that tangata whenua and takatāpui are empowered alongside all our communities.” 

Lead research partner from Te Whāriki Takapou, a Māori sexual health organisation, Kevin Haunui says, “takatāpui are part of the whānau, which means it is important for whānau to kōrero with takatāpui to understand their health needs”. 

He says one of the key findings in their last study showed that 1 in 2 takatāpui with HIV was living with their HIV infection undiagnosed. 

“SPOTS will further highlight areas where outcomes for takatāpui and our people can be improved,” Haunui says.

Fellow research assistant, Cameron Leakey, from the University of Auckland, says SPOTS will also help to inform the NZ Blood Service in regards to its policies and how it can best provide services for the rainbow community.

“The thing that I'm really excited about is the opportunity to give the blood service some really solid evidence and data about what's happening in our communities and what risk do MSM pose or not pose,” the 23-year-old student says. 

He says as a member of the community, he wants to see all rainbow communities living with the best standard of health possible.

“We don't always get the opportunity to have our voices heard like this. And so I'd encourage everyone who's eligible to take part and to do the survey and the dry blood spot as well.”

The NZ Blood Service chief medical officer, Dr Sarah Morley, says the organisation welcomes the opportunity to work on this major study.

“This is an important first step towards a better understanding of influences on sexual health and the status of HIV prevention in the MSM community across Aotearoa,” Morley says.

“The outcome will help provide vital New Zealand-based evidence that will inform the next review of New Zealand Blood Service’s behavioural deferral policy.”

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