Yesterday, the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability listened to testimony from various advocates who say the FDA’s lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men should be lifted. Advocates stressed the ban, which was enacted in 1985, is discriminatory and that technological advances should overturn the ruling.
According to Caleb Laieski, a 19-year-old gay activist who sued the FDA in an effort to get the ban overturned said the FDA focuses on gay and bisexual men who due to sexual orientation they believe has an increased risk of donating compromised blood. Laieski added that in a recent study conducted by the American Red Cross, if the ban were lifted an estimated 1.8 million lives could be saved.
Currently, the FDA’s ban on blood donation applies to any possible male donor who had sexual interactions with another male since 1997, a time when the AIDS epidemic hit the United States. At the time the FDA stated it was necessary because there was a greater risk for developing HIV, as well as hepatitis B and various other blood-transmitted diseases amongst gay and bisexual males.
Since that time, science has come a long way. HIV tests being used today are extremely accurate although they are still unable to detect this disease 100% of the time. As reported by the FDA, the HIV risk from one unit of blood has reduced to roughly one per two million in the United States, this almost from completely “window period” donations.
This “window period” exists very early on after becoming infected, a time when viral are below the detectable level. As a result, a donor might test negative for HIV when in fact he is positive, with this and perhaps other infections.
Rather than banning gay and bisexual men for life, there are some countries that allow blood donation if a male has not been in a sexual encounter with another male over the course of the past 12 months. However, bans similar to that of the FDA in other countries to include Australia, Italy, Japan, Britain, and France have been overturned.
Most advocates believe the FDA’s policy is not backed by sound science and because of this, they will continue to fight for justice and equality. Interestingly enough, the three primary organizations that take blood donations to include the American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, and the AABB, all advocate for the ban to be lifted.