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Gay Health News May 21,2023

U.S FDA Changes Rules, Allowing Gay Men To Now Donate Blood

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Gay Health: Gay men can now donate blood in the United States without facing restrictive policies that have been in place for decades. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on May 11, 2023, that it has officially dropped the ban that prohibited gay and bisexual men from donating blood under many circumstances.


This ban was initially implemented during the early days of the AIDS epidemic to ensure the safety of the blood supply. However, medical advancements and improved screening protocols have significantly reduced the risk of HIV transmission through blood transfusions.


The history of the ban dates back to 1983 when public health officials were grappling with an unknown virus that would later be identified as HIV, the cause of AIDS. The U.S. FDA implemented the ban then to mitigate the potential risks associated with blood transfusions. Over the years, scientific progress has played a crucial role in minimizing the transmission of HIV through blood. The last documented case of HIV transmission from a U.S. donor's blood product occurred almost 15 years ago. Additionally, the U.S. government has implemented a robust monitoring system to ensure the safety of the blood supply, including screening for various pathogens, including HIV.


The decision to lift the ban reflects the evolving scientific understanding of HIV transmission and the recognition that the benefits of the ban no longer outweighed the discriminatory nature of the policy. The FDA has been gradually moving towards this change, initially allowing men who have sex with men to donate blood after a one-year deferral period in 2015, and reducing it further to three months in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic to address blood shortages. However, these time-based deferrals failed to consider individual risk factors associated with sexual behavior, relationships, and other factors.


Under the new guidelines, the U.S.FDA recommends using blood donor history questionnaires to assess an individual's risk, rather than relying solely on broad categorizations based on gender and sexual orientation. This allows for differentiation between monogamous individuals and those who engage in higher-risk sexual behaviors. The revised guidelines aim to provide a more nuanced approach to blood donation eligibility by considering various risk factors. If an individual is deemed high-risk based on the assessment, they will be deferred from donating blood for a period of three months.


The elimination of the ban is expected to have a positive impact on the blood supply in the United States. Conservative estimates suggest that the lifting of the ban could result in a 2% to 4% increase in the blood supply, potentially saving over a million lives. Furthermore, removing gender and sexual orientation from the risk assessment helps address stigma and discrimination against men who have sex with men.


The U.S. FDA’s announcement has garnered widespread support from advocates, medical groups, and blood banks. Organizations such as America's Blood Centers and GLAAD have commended the FDA's decision, emphasizing that it prioritizes the safety of the blood supply while treating all donors fairly and respectfully.


However, some concerns have been raised regarding LGBTQ+ individuals who are on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV transmission. These individuals are still barred from donating blood until three months after their last dose.


Advocacy groups urge the U.S. FDA to continue prioritizing scientific evidence and ensure equal treatment for all blood donors.


These new changes are a mostly welcome shift in a new direction, advocates say

Reaction to the news has been mostly positive from advocates, medical groups and blood banks.


Kate Fry, CEO of America's Blood Centers, a non-profit organization that brings together community-based and independent blood centers, told Gay Health News, "This shift toward individual donor assessments prioritizes the safety of America's blood supply while treating all donors with the fairness and respect they deserve."


She added that the U.S. FDA's final guidance is based on data that shows the best protection against diseases, like HIV, is through strong testing of all blood donation and a uniform screening process for each donor.


Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) commented in a media statement, "The U.S. FDA's decision to follow science and issue new recommendations for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, who selflessly donate blood to help save lives, signals the beginning of the end of a dark and discriminatory past rooted in fear and homophobia."


However, some gay activists noted that while the new guidance is a step in the right direction, there is still a barrier for LGBTQ+ people who are on PrEP, an FDA-approved drug proven to prevent the transmission of HIV, who may want to donate blood. But the US. FDA says further research is needed on this issue before a decision can be made.


The U.S FDA's decision to remove the restrictions on blood donations by gay and bisexual men marks a significant milestone in addressing discriminatory policies and advancing blood safety protocols. By adopting a risk-based approach that evaluates individual behaviors rather than relying on gender and sexual orientation alone, the U.S FDA aims to enhance the blood supply while eliminating stigmatization. This change aligns with the scientific evidence and brings the United States in line with other countries that have already implemented similar guidelines. The revised regulations offer hope for a more inclusive and equitable blood donation system, saving lives and challenging outdated prejudices.


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