Gay and bisexual men want to fulfill their social and moral responsibility by donating blood after the shooting in Orlando, Florida, but they are not being allowed to do so. It is because a federal rule bans men who are currently sexually active with other men to donate blood.
After the incident, many have asked that the Food and Drug Administration needs to reconsider its policies. All the blood donation centers across the US have to follow the FDA’s rule. As per which, men who are sexually active with other men need to wait a year at least following their most recent sexual event before they come up for blood donation.
Main objective behind the rule is to lessen the risk of transmitting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) through blood. The 12-month wait period was introduced in the place on an earlier FDA ban established in 1985 that all together banned men who had sex with men (MSM) from donating blood ever.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that gay and bisexual men in the US are at an increased risk of getting diagnosed with HIV than any other group across the nation. The FDA said that the main reason owing to which the earlier ruling was replaced was the studies have shown that the risk of HIV transmission from blood donation from MSM was equivalent to the donations from people who have accidentally been exposed to another person’s blood.
With the new ruling, the US also joined other nations, including Australia and the US. California Rep. Barbara Lee is among those who have supported for lifting the ban. “Low-risk MSM who wish to donate blood and help saves lives should not be exclusively and categorically excluded because of outdated stereotypes”, said Lee.
According to a report in NW Online by DONALD G. McNEIL, “Gay men were ready to volunteer. But a ban on donations from sexually active gay men, imposed by the Food and Drug Administration, remains in place, infuriating some gay-rights activists. The agency does not permit a man who has had sex with another man in the past year to donate blood. Loosening that restriction, officials say, would greatly increase the chances of contaminating the blood supply with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.”
The FDA says its position is based on science and notes that its one-year waiting period is in line with policies in the United Kingdom and Australia. France dropped its ban on donations from gay men last year. The health authorities must balance the demand for blood against the inevitable consequences. Despite elaborate screening criteria and modern blood testing, FDA officials note, every year some of the 3.5 million patients who receive transfusions are infected with various diseases.
A report published in the Scientific American said, “The FDA’s blood donation guidelines—which all blood donation centers in the U.S. must follow—mandate that men who are sexually active with other men wait at least 12 months following their most recent sexual encounter before donating blood. The rule is aimed at reducing the risk of transmitting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) through blood transfusions. The 12-month waiting period was introduced in December 2015, replacing an earlier FDA policy established in 1985 that prohibited men who had sex with men (MSM) from ever giving blood.”
The reason for the change to the 12-month waiting period (also called a deferral period), according to FDA officials, was that recent research determined that the risk of HIV transmission from blood donations from MSM was comparable to that of donations from people who had accidentally been exposed to another person’s blood, or had recently received a blood transfusion themselves. Both of these groups must wait 12 months before donating blood.
“The FDA’s policy on blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM) was an emergency response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, first implemented in 1983. Amid uncertainty and crisis, the policy was meant to exclude from the blood supply donors who were high-risk for HIV, notably gay men. In Orlando, more than three decades later, during another period of uncertainty and crisis, the FDA’s policy is preventing that same group from donating to the wounded members of its own community and to other attack victims,” according to a news report published by The Hill.
But being gay itself does not make one inherently susceptible to contracting HIV and by focusing on MSM as a category and not specific risk factors, the FDA unnecessarily shrinks the donor pool and perpetuates an association between gays and HIV/AIDS. It is true that the highest rates of new HIV infections occur in the gay community and that some MSM are high-risk donors because they engage in certain high-risk behaviors, but by requiring a deferral based solely on gay sex, the FDA implies that gay sex is inherently risky. Not all MSM pose a risk and zero-risk donors can be easily identified. Where is the risk in sex between two men who have been in a monogamous relationship for years and know that they are HIV-negative? There may be risk in a donor who has multiple sexual partners of unknown HIV status and without protection, but that is as true for MSM as it is for non-MSM.