After a ban that lasted more than 30 years, many gay and bisexual men will soon be able to donate blood.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended a change to the blood donor deferral period for men who have sex with men, or MSM. Previously, MSM were indefinitely barred from donating blood. Now, they are only prohibited from doing so within one year of their last sexual contact with a male.
The American Association of Blood Banks, America’s Blood Centers and the American Red Cross issued a joint statement on Dec. 23 endorsing the proposal which stated the “current lifetime deferral is unwarranted.” This is largely due to the effectiveness with which donated blood is now tested for diseases. Under current policy, all blood donations are tested for many infectious diseases, including HIV, Hepatitis B and C and Syphilis.
LSA senior Samantha Rea, chair of the University’s Blood Battle, said the recommendation for change is encouraging, but still not enough due to the persisting regulation on MSM to wait a year after male sexual contact to donate. The Blood Battle is an annual event held by Blood Drives United, a University student organization. Last year, BDU started an initiative called Bleeding for Equality to raise awareness about the FDA’s blood donation policy pertaining to MSM.
“It’s a step in the right direction, and it’s exciting that they have considered changing the policy,” Rea said. “We still don’t think it’s enough because it still discriminates based on sexual orientation.”
The FDA enacted the ban on homosexual males and bisexual blood donors in 1983 as an early response to the AIDS epidemic. According to the Center for Disease Control, MSM are more affected by HIV than any other group in the United States. At the end of 2011, 57 percent of persons living with HIV in the United States were gay or bisexual men.
According to a December article in The New York Times, blood can now be better tested to ensure it does not contain the AIDS virus. Modern tests can detect and diagnose a human immunodeficiency virus infection, which causes AIDS, within nine to 11 days of exposure. The article also highlighted data from Australia that concluded that after a 12-month period, there was no significant increase in the risk of transfusion-transmitted HIV from MSM donors.
Rea added that a more equitable policy change would ensure the safety of all blood from all sexually active donors, rather than solely MSM.
“The FDA needs to test unsafe sexual practices for all donors,” she said. “It’s absolutely unwarranted to do so just based on sexual orientation.”
Rea said BDU plans to keep advocating for more accepting policy changes.
“We will continue advocating for a greater change, but now hopefully we will get more donors,” she said. “It gives some hope that there will be more changes made in the future, but we still want to be pushing for more.”
Clarification: The story’s first paragraph has been updated to clarify that only some gay and bisexual men will be able to donate blood under the revised policy.