April 18, 2012
The American Red Cross (ARC) and other blood organizations are calling for a change in the Food and Drug Administration policy that excludes men from donating blood if they have had sexual contact with another man even once since 1977. Instead, they prefer a one-year waiting period. A similar change was made last year in England, Scotland, and Wales.
ARC Chief Medical Officer Richard Benjamin said HIV was a much bigger threat to the US blood supply decades ago. The nucleic acid test, introduced in 1999, picks up HIV infections that occurred as recently as 12 days before the test, according to Benjamin.
Some AIDS activists consider it unfair to have a lifetime deferral for men who have sex with men (MSM) and claim monogamy, but not for heterosexual men who say they have had sex with a prostitute. FDA says the goal is to protect the public, and it is basing its policy on science, not "any judgment concerning the donor's sexual orientation."
FDA may reevaluate the policy, and it agrees that current HIV tests miss fewer than one in a million HIV-infected donors. Risks still exist, though only four known HIV transmissions through blood transfusions have occurred since 1999, Benjamin said. According to FDA, HIV prevalence is 60 times higher among MSM than in the general public.
Although certain activists say the lifetime ban "feels like discrimination," FDA points out other groups with a lifetime deferral from donating blood include anyone who has received money, drugs or other payment for sex since 1977; and those who have injected drugs for a non-medical reason.
FDA's policy was most recently reviewed and upheld by a Health and Human Services advisory committee in 2010.