Following the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, U.S. health officials are under increasing pressure to remove restrictions keeping most gay and bisexual men from donating blood. Thousands of men in the gay community turned out to donate after the tragedy, only to be told that federal law prevented them from doing so.
So why is it that gay men are subjected to different rules? Trace Dominguez explains in today's DNews report.
First of all, contrary to a popular misconception recently back in circulation, gay men can donate blood under current FDA regulations. But it gets confusing fast: The current rules stipulate that men who have sex with men (designated as MSM) must wait 12 months after sexual contact before they can give blood. (The rule also applies to women and transgender persons who have had sex with MSM).
The 12-month waiting period rule was enacted just last December, replacing a much broader ban that had been in place since the 1980s. During the AIDS epidemic the FDA imposed a lifetime ban on blood donation from any man who had ever had sex with another man. This was in the early days of the AIDS crisis, when very little was known about transmission of the HIV virus.
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That ban remained in place all the way through to 2015, despite improved blood screening technology. In fact, HIV blood screening tests have become nearly 100 percent accurate in recent years, on par with hepatitis screening. But the MSM population was still singled out under the earlier ban.
Statistics were cited as part of the reason why. Anal intercourse is up to 18 times more risky than vaginal intercourse, in terms of HIV transmission. And 72 percent of new HIV infections occur in gay men, even though they make up only two percent of the population.
For decades now, critics of the policy have rightfully pointed out that women can have anal sex, too, and can carry and transmit the HIV virus. And, of course, not everyone in the MSM community has anal sex, or unprotected sex, or HIV for that matter. And what about gay, bisexual or transgender people who are abstinent entirely, or in long-term monogamous relationships?
Clearly, the original FDA rules -- and the recently imposed 12-month deferment -- are insufficient at best, and essentially prejudicial. The Orlando massacre has highlighted the issue once again, and some lawmakers have already called for a wholesale lifting of the ban.
But according to a recent Reuters report, the FDA maintains there is still not enough scientific evidence to remove the restrictions.
"We empathize with those who might wish to donate, but reiterate that at this time no one who needs blood is doing without it," spokeswoman Tara Goodin said in a statement. "That being said, the FDA is committed to continuing to reevaluate its blood donor deferral policies as new scientific information becomes available."
-- Glenn McDonald
CDC: HIV and AIDS --- United States, 1981-2000
CDC: HIV Among Gay and Bisexual Men
CNN: FDA Lifts Lifetime Ban On Gay Men Donating Blood
American Association of Blood Banks: Joint Statement on ACBTSA Recommendation to Change MSM Deferral Policy