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FDA Lifts Ban on Blood Donations From Gay and Bisexual Men

While many hail the change as a step forward, some advocates argue that the new policy isn’t enough.

Image via (cc) flickr user e-coli

The Food and Drug Administration announced Monday that it would begin accepting blood donated by gay and bisexual men, ending a ban that stretched back decades, to the heart of the AIDS epidemic of the mid-1980s. Under their new guidelines, the FDA will accept blood from men who are proven HIV-free, and have abstained from sex with another man for at least one year.

It’s a move that has received a lukewarm reception from the LGBT community, with some welcoming the change in policy as a move toward inclusivity, while others worry it doesn’t go far enough. David Stacy, director of government affairs for Human Rights Campaign, tells The Advocate that “it's a step in the right direction toward an ideal policy that reflects the best scientific research,” but insists that “it still falls far short of a fully acceptable solution because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men.” The Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a New York-based AIDS advocacy and care organization, echoed that critique, writing in a release:

The FDA’s 12-month deferral plan would still require gay and bisexual men to be celibate for a full year before they are allowed to donate blood, regardless of marital status and safe-sex practices. Heterosexuals are given no such restrictions, even if their sexual behavior places them at high risk for HIV. In practice, the new policy is still a continuation of the lifetime ban and ignores the modern science of HIV-testing technology while perpetuating the stereotype that all gay and bisexual men are inherently dangerous. Blood donation policies should be based on science, not stigma.

In a statement, the FDA pledged to continue working toward better policies. Writes Peter Marks, deputy director of the agency’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research:

In reviewing our policies to help reduce the risk of HIV transmission through blood products, we rigorously examined several alternative options, including individual risk assessment. Ultimately, the 12-month deferral window is supported by the best available scientific evidence, at this point in time, relevant to the U.S. population. We will continue to actively conduct research in this area and further revise our policies as new data emerge

The FDA reports that “specific deferral questions and advances in HIV donor testing has helped … reduce the HIV transmission rates from blood transfusion from 1 in 2,500 to 1 in 1.47 million.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, the revised policy comes after years of FDA studies into global epidemiology, culminating in a recommendation from an independent panel of experts last year that the lifetime ban on men who had slept with other men be changed to a 12-month one, pending celibacy and proof of health. In making this change, the United States joins Britain, Sweden, Japan, and Australia in instituting the one-year restriction on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.

Said FDA acting commissioner Stephen Ostroff, M.D., in a statement: “The FDA’s responsibility is to maintain a high level of blood product safety for people whose lives depend on it. We have taken great care to ensure this policy revision is backed by sound science and continues to protect our blood supply.”

[via L.A.Times]

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