Revised Donor Eligibility Criteria

From Monday 15th December, New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) is introducing revisions to its donor eligibility criteria.  These include changes to the donor behavioural criteria, as well as changes to donor eligibility following return from overseas travel to reduce the risk of transmission of a number of insect borne infections.

Changes to the donor behavioural criteria follow an independent expert review commissioned by NZBS. The review was initiated as part of NZBS’s commitment to re-examine the criteria after a five year interval following the last changes made in 2009.

Following the robust and highly independent review, led by Emeritus Professor Charlotte Paul, NZBS accepted its recommendations as best practice and all changes have subsequently been approved by Medsafe.

The main changes are:

  • The deferral period for men who have sex with men is changed to 12 months from five years following their last sexual encounter.
  • The deferral period for former residents of countries considered to be high risk for HIV infection to be changed to 12 months from five years.
  • The deferral period for sex workers after engaging in sex work (prostitution) in New Zealand or overseas is to be aligned at 12 months.

These changes will bring into line the approach used by NZBS to that currently in place in Australia and the United Kingdom.

In addition to the revisions outlined above, changes to the criteria relating to overseas travel will also come into effect.  Most people who travel outside New Zealand will still be able to donate blood when they return.  However, travel to an area where there is a risk of exposure to certain infections can result in potential risks to the recipients of blood transfusion.  The changes to the travel criteria will include the introduction of an ‘arbovirus’ risk reduction strategy that aims to reduce the likelihood that these insect borne viruses (principally West Nile, Dengue, and Chikungunya viruses) might be transmitted by transfusion in New Zealand.

‘Donating After Travelling’ tool can be found on the NZBS website, where donors simply enter the country they have recently visited, or click on the world map, to determine if there was an infection risk in the country visited.  Those who have visited a country where there is risk of infection will be advised to defer their donation for a specified period of time.

NZBS has a primary statutory responsibility to ensure that blood components available in New Zealand are as safe as is reasonably practicable. Donor eligibility criteria play an important role in assuring the overall safety of the blood supply. 

NZBS uses a combination approach to assuring the overall safety of the blood supply. International evidence clearly demonstrates that a combination approach whereby donors at increased risk of certain infections are excluded from donating and careful testing of donated blood is more effective than reliance on testing alone. There is a very small risk that the tests might not detect a blood borne infection. This is particularly so in the very early days and weeks following infection. The donor eligibility criteria overcome this risk by excluding those people who are most likely to develop an infection. Donors are deferred for many reasons. In addition to behavioural and travel criteria, this includes recent piercings and tattoos, residency in the United Kingdom, Ireland or France during the variant Creutzfeldt Jakob (vCJD) epidemic and a range of medical conditions. 

Behavioural Donor Deferral Criteria Review - February 2014 (pdf, 888 KB)
Final report produced by the external expert review group.
Changes to Blood Donor Deferral Criteria in New Zealand (pdf, 343 KB)
Gay Community Summary Guide 2014. Produced by the Gay Men's Sexual Health research group, University of Auckland.


For comment, please contact:

Asuka Burge - National Manager Marketing & Communications, New Zealand Blood Service

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