Landmark donation eligibility change for Black African heritage donors

3 March 2022

Four health charities have teamed up with NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) to promote new blood, platelet, and plasma donor opportunities for Black donors of African heritage.

The campaign – supported by ACLT, One Voice Network, Sickle Cell Society and Terrence Higgins Trust – aims to raise awareness of landmark changes to blood donation rules which now make it easier for more people from a Black African heritage to donate.

It is hoped that more people from Black African communities can now give blood because of the removal of rules around a partner’s exposure to HIV in other parts of the world.

More about the change

Since December, donors are no longer asked if their partner has ever had sex in areas where HIV is endemic – which includes most of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Instead, all donors are now asked the same questions about recent sexual behaviours and are eligible to donate if the risk of past or recently acquired infection is low.

This broader change to how eligibility is assessed initially came into effect in the summer last year and paved the way for a later decision by the Government to remove the question about a partner’s past sexual behaviours abroad.

It came after a review of scientific evidence by the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group on the latest epidemiology and risk of infection, which was led by NHSBT and involved patient groups and stakeholder organisations including the Terrence Higgins Trust.

We need more Black donors

There is currently an urgent need for more Black donors in the UK. Each month 1,300 Black donors are needed to give blood to provide life-saving transfusions to sickle cell patients, as well as for use in emergencies, childbirth, during surgery, in cancer treatments and for use in other medical conditions.

NHSBT has already contacted 12,000 people of Black African heritage who were previously deferred, and who may now be eligible to donate blood to notify them of the change.

The social media campaign will continue to reach out to more people from Black African communities to raise greater awareness of the change, reaching tens of thousands of engaged people from the Black African community through a partnership with ACLT, One Voice Network, Sickle Cell Society and Terrence Higgins Trust.

Alex Cullen, Head of Blood Donation Marketing at NHSBT, said: “We are proud of our work through FAIR to advise the Government on the latest science and evidence on individual risk of sexual infection, which led to this landmark change.

“This question affected people of all ethnicities and their partners, but in particular people with African heritage – and amongst them many in the Black African community were put off the idea of giving blood because of it.

“In recent years nearly a third more Black donors have been saving lives, but there has also been a 50% rise in patients with sickle cell disease, who, themselves are often of Black heritage, and need a rare blood type that is commonly found in people of the same ethnicity.

“We now have an opportunity to build on our existing work with Black communities and encourage more people of Black heritage to donate by raising awareness of this eligibility change and promoting the urgent need for more ethnically matched blood.

“We welcome the support of ACLT, One Voice Network, Sickle Cell Society and the Terrence Higgins Trust to amplify this important message.”

Maria Caulfield, Minister for Patient Safety, said: “Giving blood saves lives and I am absolutely committed to making sure blood donation is more inclusive and accessible as part of levelling up health care services for everyone across the country.

“This change has been another progressive step forward to create a fairer system. Focusing on individual behaviours, rather than blanket deferrals, and reducing limitations for people to donate blood has made it easier for Black donors in particular to safely donate rare blood types. I encourage anyone eligible to register to donate blood – it’s quick and easy.”

Quotes from our partners

Become a blood donor. Register today and book and appointment by calling 0300 123 23 23, downloading the NHS Give Blood app, or registering online.

Find out more about the FAIR changes and read the full report