The FDA has announced plans to lift the ban on gay blood donors. Although the agency will continue to impose a deferment, gay and bisexual men would be able to donate blood one year after their “last sexual contact” with another man.
In 1983, U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined gay and bisexual men are, “as a group, at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B,” and other sexually transmitted diseases. As a result, “men who have sex with other men” were indefinitely deferred as blood donors.
The agency cited numerous studies, which concluded male to male sexual contact accounts for a majority of HIV infections. Although the overall incidence of HIV has stabilized over the last ten years, the FDA’s deferment remained in place. The current policy essentially bans men from donating blood — if they have had sexual contact with another man “at any time since 1977.”
The recommended policy change would begin in 2015. As discussed in a press release, the changes are supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“… in collaboration with other government agencies, the FDA has carefully examined and considered the available scientific evidence relevant to its blood donor deferral policy… including the results of several recently completed scientific studies and recent epidemiologic data… the agency will take the necessary steps to recommend a change to the blood donor deferral period for men who have sex with men… “
The FDA’s decision to lift the ban on gay blood donors is also endorsed by the HHS Advisory committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability.
As safety is a top priority, the FDA is currently working with the NIH’s National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and the FDA to implement an extensive blood surveillance system. The system will allow the agencies monitor any negative impact caused by the policy change.
Harvard University professor Glenn Cohen said the change in policy “is a major victory for gay civil rights.” As reported by the New York Times, Cohen believes the change is a move in the right direction. However, he said the proposed policy is “still not rational enough,” as the new policy will still prohibit an estimated 3.8 percent of gay and bisexual men from donating blood.
The Williams Institute at the University of California estimates the new policy will increase the nation’s blood supply by more than 300,000 pints each year.
A draft of the FDA’s policy to lift the ban on gay blood donors will be available in 2015.
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