Gay Men Now Allowed to Donate Blood—With a Catch

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Blood donationThe Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has loosened the ban on gay men from donating blood. In a statement released yesterday, the FDA explains its decision as based on improved scientific understanding and advancements which have come a long way since the ban was initially put in place at the start of the AIDS crisis in 1983.

Now, men who have sex with men (MSM) will be able to donate blood as long as it has been at least one year since their last act of intercourse. This is a similar limit to those imposed on other high-risk groups. Anyone who has had sex with a prostitute or used intravenous drugs within the past year, for example, cannot donate blood either.

Human rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups have acknowledged the ruling as a step in the right direction, but also believe it does not go far enough. The FDA maintains that keeping a celibacy requirement is an important preventative step that is consistent with blood donation practices used by countries like the United Kingdom or Australia, both of which use the one year MSM limit.

Fully removing the ban was considered, but the FDA estimated that this would result in a roughly 400% increase in HIV transmission, which the agency deemed unacceptable.

All blood that is donated within the U.S. is screened for HIV, among other diseases. Testing methods have improved considerably since the time when the MSM ban was first instituted, but they are not foolproof. There is a 10-day window between becoming infected with HIV and the virus appearing in the bloodstream and tests can fail, albeit extremely rarely.

The American Red Cross estimates that one in 1.5 million blood donations will be contaminated with HIV. Since there are 15.7 million blood donations made annually in the U.S.—that works out to around 10 HIV contaminated donations every year. The FDA has erred on the side of caution by maintaining a one year rule on MSM, as it has judged that such a limit would not impact the safety of the country’s blood supply.

Some countries, such as Italy, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Portugal, and Spain, do not have any ban on MSM blood donations. Their programs instead make use of tougher screening questions and criteria across all potential donors.

What impact the one-year MSM rule will have on the U.S. blood supply remains to be seen. It is hoped, however, that the lessened restrictions will help alleviate periodic blood shortages.

Sources for Today’s Article:
“Ban on Blood Donations from Gay and Bisexual Men Ease in the U.S.,” CBC news web site, December 21, 2015;
“US FDA Partially Lifts Gay Men Blood Donation Ban,” BBC News web site, December 22, 2015;