The FDA revised its guidelines on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, in a post on its website this Tuesday.
The Food and Drug Administration released draft guidance language on its website this Tuesday that would reverse the long-standing ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. According to the Washington Times, gay and bisexual men would be allowed to donate blood provided they could prove they have remained abstinent for at lease a 12 consecutive months.
The FDA stated that the policy would ensure the safety of emergency blood supplies for hemophiliacs and other users. Several other nations, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Hungary, Japan, Sweden, and the UK, all have similar policies that include a one or multiple-year abstinence requirement for men who have sex with other men (MSM).
Gay-rights advocates have expressed their displeasure with the policy, explaining that there are faithful and monogamous MSM relationships posing no more risk of HIV or hepatitis transmission than heterosexuals with multiple female partners.
The FDA says that the new MSM policy would defer potential donors until 12 months after their last sexual contact with another man had passed. The policy would replace an outright ban on donations from MSM blood donors. The ban was instituted during the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic was peaking around the world.
According to Dr. Robert M. Wah, the president of the American Medical Association, the FDA was “taking a step in the right direction” with its new proposed policy. After all, doctors never stop needing blood for transfusions and other procedures. The new policy would allow donations from otherwise healthy donors who were prohibited from giving blood by the 1980s’ regulations.
David Stacy, the director of government affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, asserts that the policy falls short of achieving equality for potential gay and bisexual blood donors. Stacy claims the proposed policy continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men, unfairly precluding them from participating in blood drives even when the risk of passing on a blood-borne infection is not necessarily higher than it would be from anyone else.
Mr. Stacy has committed his group’s resources and efforts to working towards a policy that treats gay and bisexual men with equality and respect, while simultaneously mitigating risks to the blood supply. While he was clear about his group’s stance on the policy, he acknowledged the need for at least some type of screening procedure to ensure safe blood for those who need transfusions.
Under the newly proposed policy, women who have had sex with MSM partners would also be asked to defer blood donations to after a 12-month abstinence period. Those who worked in the commercial sex industry, use nonprescription intravenous drugs, or tested positive for HIV are still banned indefinitely from donating blood.
The emergence of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, known ubiquitously as AIDS, in the 1980s frightened medical professionals and policy makers to no end, especially once it was learned that the disease was largely transmitted through blood. Prior to this realization, it was falsely believed that AIDS was primarily transmitted via sexual contact between two men. Once doctors learned that blood and other body fluids were the virus’s primary mode of transmission, however, the United States was forced to seriously reconsider the way in which they made blood used for transfusions available.
Blood donor education material distributed in the 1980’s played up the notion that AIDS was a disease largely affecting MSM populations, and the disease quickly and unjustly became associated with the homosexual community in the US.
Since 1985, the FDA has recommended that establishments collecting blood donations “indefinitely defer male donors who have had sex with another male, even one time, since 1977, due to the strong clustering of AIDS illness in the MSM community and the subsequent discovery of high rates of HIV infection in that population.”
The FDA has reviewed this policy, and has deemed it “suboptimal.” The Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability, otherwise known as “the Committee,” recommended that policy should be replaced once targeted research studies supporting a safe alternative policy were completed.
In 2010, these studies were undertaken by the Interagency Blood, Organ, & Tissue Safety Working Group on MSM. The group, which consisted of medical professionals from a wide range of organizations, worked to complete a review of blood donation deferral criteria, and tried to establish a blood safety-monitoring program.
The policy guidelines are just that, and nobody has been able to definitively determine the best way for assessing blood donor risks based on sexuality. Research overwhelmingly supports the position that commercial sex workers and intravenous drug users pose the greatest risk for disease transmission via blood donations, however.