The FDA released new recommendations this week that would — for the first time in three decades — lift the ban preventing gay men from donating blood. But there's a catch. The new guidelines would allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood, but only if they have abstained from sex for one year.
In 1983, at the height of the U.S. AIDS epidemic, regulations were put in place to ban gay and bisexual men from donating blood. But in light of new and better testing for HIV that is now available, the ban has been called discriminatory by the LGBT community, as well as some lawmakers and medical advocates.
Under the current guidelines, men who have had sex with other men since 1977 cannot donate blood in the U.S. The new guidelines would allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood. But is the one year abstinence ban fair? Many groups say it still reeks of discrimination.
“It still falls far short of a fully acceptable solution because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men,” said David Stacy, government affairs director of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement.“This policy prevents men from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation rather than actual risk to the blood supply. It simply cannot be justified in light of current scientific research and updated blood screening technology.”
But the FDA insists that the one year recommendation is neither arbitrary nor discriminatory. Similar regulations in countries such as Japan, Brazil, the United Kingdom and Australia have seen good success in both increasing the number of people eligible to donate blood and maintaining the safety of the donated blood supply.
In an interview with Yahoo Health, Dr. Louis Katz, chief medical officer of America’s Blood Centers explained why the one-year rule makes sense: "When blood is drawn for donation, it’s tested multiple times before it enters a blood bank. It undergoes two tests for HIV, two for hepatitis C, and three for hepatitis B. However, there’s an interval of time after a person has been infected where a test may not be positive, which can be anywhere from a few days to several weeks."
The one-year window ensures that if the disease has been contracted, it will show up in the tests.
Katz also acknowledged that the one-year deferral may just be the first step to in the process, and a much needed one at that.
“We’ve taken an incredible step to go from a lifetime ban to a one-year deferral,” said Katz. “Once we have a data set from this change, we’ll look at what else is possible.”
The FDA's new recommendation will be open for a 60-day comment period from the public, beginning May 15. Check out the FDA site for the full text of the proposed regulation and info about how to make a comment.
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