Monday, December 21, 2015

FDA Reduces Lifetime Ban On MSM Blood Donations To 1 Year

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal agency responsible for protecting the United States blood supply has finally issued regulations on changing the discriminatory (and patently offensive) policy on preventing any man who has said sex with another man (MSM) from donating blood. The decades-old policy of a lifetime ban was replaced with a "1-year deferral" for men who have had (any kind of) sex with another man.

From the FDA press release issued today:
As part of today’s finalized blood donor deferral guidance, the FDA is changing its recommendation that  men who have sex with men (MSM) be indefinitely deferred – a policy that has been in place for approximately 30 years – to 12 months since the last sexual contact with another man. These updated recommendations better align the deferral period for MSM with the deferral period for other men and women at increased risk for HIV infection – such as those who had a recent blood transfusion or those who have been accidentally exposed to the blood of another individual. The FDA examined a variety of recent studies, epidemiologic data, and shared experiences from other countries that have made recent MSM deferral policy changes. 
“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,” said Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “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.” 
Several countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia, currently have 12-month deferrals for MSM. During the change in Australia from an indefinite blood donor deferral policy for MSM to a 12-month deferral, well-conducted studies evaluating over 8 million units of donated blood were performed using a national blood surveillance system. These published studies document no change in risk to the blood supply with use of the 12-month deferral. Similar data are not available for shorter deferral intervals.
The website and Williams Institute conducted an analysis on the numerous proposed changes to the lifetime blood ban on MSM donations and these are summarized:

There should be an estimated 2 million more people eligible to donate blood, with 190, 000 of them likely to do so.

However, as the New Civil Rights Movement blog points out, the revised policy still continues the stigma of homosexuality, since a married gay couple who only have sex with each other (even with condoms!) is technically barred from giving blood for a year while a straight guy could be having sex every day for a year with sex workers or other high-risk individuals and the straight person is not bared from donating blood under this policy. This communicates the message that homosexuality is inherently more "dangerous" than heterosexuality.

I applaud the progress from the ridiculously stigmatizing lifetime ban on men who have sex with men but would urge the FDA to consider a policy that is neutral based on the gender of the person the potential blood donor has sex with.

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