June 9, 2010
At a two-day meeting this week in Rockville, Md., the Federal Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability is set to reconsider the policy banning blood donations by any man who has had sex with another man since 1977.
The Food and Drug Administration adopted the ban in 1983 in an effort to keep the blood supply free of HIV. The policy also includes a one-year ban on donations by women who report sex with a man who has sex with men (MSM).
Activists argue that testing advancements made since 1983 effectively keep HIV out of the blood supply, although the virus still remains undetectable during a two-week window period after transmission.
"That's the risk for any blood donor, which is why they screen everybody," said Dr. Robert Winn, executive director of the Mazzoni Center, an LGBT health center in Philadelphia. "Having this ban for one risk category doesn't make any sense."
Dr. Jay Brooks, a professor of pathology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, said that if the policy changes, "You're not getting much blood, but you are getting an increased risk of [contaminated blood]." Brooks added that he supports gay rights. CDC reports that MSM accounted for 64 percent of men living with HIV in 2006.
The American Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks are on record opposing the lifetime ban on MSM blood donations.
In a statement, the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter said the ban "is unwarranted, and donor deferral criteria should be modified and made comparable with criteria for other groups at increased risk for sexual transmission of transfusion-transmitted infections."