Launch of a large-scale study for the equity of blood donation

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A study called “SPOTS”: Sex and Prevention of Transmission Study launched on Tuesday and wants to hear from 4000 men who have sex with men (MSM) about their views on blood donation and safe sex practices, aiming to make fairer blood donation for homosexuals, bisexuals, takatāpui and other MSM.

Currently, MSM cannot donate blood for three months if they have had anal or oral sex with or without a condom, or for three months after receiving pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). In December 2020, this three-month period was shortened from what was previously a 12-month deferral period.

The study is led by the University of Auckland in partnership with the University of Otago and the NZ Aids Foundation, Body Positive, Te Whāriki Takapou and the NZ Blood Service.

Dr Peter Saxton, a senior researcher at the University of Auckland’s School of Population Health, explained that MSM in Aotearoa are barred from donating blood for three months since last sex, due to the outbreak. of HIV.

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

“The NZ Blood Service agrees that some MSM are at low risk to donate blood, but the organization lacks evidence to improve policy further. Our study will be the first to provide this evidence,” said Saxton.

Dr Peter Saxton, from the University of Auckland's School of Medicine and Health Sciences, says the results of a new study he co-authored offer a stark call to arms to tackle the spread of HIV and syphilis.

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Dr Peter Saxton, from the University of Auckland’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences, says the results of a new study he co-authored offer a stark call to arms to tackle the spread of HIV and syphilis.

NZ Blood Service Chief Medical Officer Dr Sarah Morley welcomed the opportunity to work on the study, which she saw as an important first step towards a better understanding of influences on sexual health and status. HIV prevention in the MSM community of Aotearoa.

“The result will help provide vital New Zealand-based evidence that will inform the upcoming review of the New Zealand Blood Service’s behavioral exclusion policy. This study is a real opportunity to make change, and we encourage all people eligible to participate,” she said.

Keven Haunui, Te Whāriki Takapou’s lead research partner, said it was important for takatāpui whānau to be involved in the project.

“Our latest study showed that 1 in 2 takatāpui living with HIV were living with their HIV infection without being diagnosed. SPOTS will further highlight areas where results for takatāpui and our people can be improved.

He encouraged takatāpui to adopt kaupapa SPOTS so that their health needs would be understood.

To participate, an online behavioral questionnaire must be completed and participants will be asked to provide dried blood drops via a simple finger prick device and a card couriered to each participant’s address. The samples will be sent to a laboratory and tested for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis C.

By comparing participants’ behavioral response with laboratory results, researchers can then estimate the proportion of MSM living with an undiagnosed infection.

Participants can choose to donate a sample anonymously or receive their results.

The information provided by the SPOTS survey will help prevent the transmission of HIV and STIs, improve blood donation for MSM and reduce the number of undiagnosed cases of HIV, hepatitis C and syphilis.

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The information provided by the SPOTS survey will help prevent the transmission of HIV and STIs, improve blood donation for MSM and reduce the number of undiagnosed cases of HIV, hepatitis C and syphilis.

“Knowing more about undiagnosed infections is crucial for three public health reasons,” Saxton said: it informs who should and should not donate blood in the future for the safety of blood recipients; it shows where HIV prevention could be better targeted for MSM to end HIV transmission in New Zealand by 2025; and people living with a previously undiagnosed infection can be referred to care for their own benefit and that of their partner.

Saxton said there were plans to offer finger pricks in person, but since Omicron joined and with many Pride events postponed, they are relying on online promotion and word of mouth.

“It’s an opportunity for MSM to take part in a community initiative, raise their voices and be part of the change,” he said.

The researchers hope to attract a large number of MSM, including cis and trans men, over the age of 16 and living in Aotearoa. Trans women, non-binary people who have sex with MSM, or those who identify as gay, bisexual, gay, or pansexual but have never had sex with a man can also participate. Participants can be of any HIV status, ethnicity, religion or relationship status.

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