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Limits on blood donations from gay and bisexual men eased by FDA

The Food and Drug Administration has announced it will not lift its total ban on gay and bisexual men from giving blood donations in the US. The policy, which has been in place for more than 30 years, has been altered after being deemed discriminatory.

Each year, around 110 million blood donations are collected across the world. Despite this seemingly large number, hospitals almost always have a shortage of stock.

This is partly due to blood’s short shelf life, but also because 90 percent of individuals who are eligible to donate do not do so regularly enough, if at all. Not to mention, a large demographic of people have been prohibited from donating.

Up until now, the US Food and Drug Administration has disallowed donations from men who have sex with men (MSM) over ‘concerns that blood from individuals who have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, would be used in transfusions.’

This policy, which was intended to prevent MSM men from donating for their entire lives, came into effect during the AIDs epidemic of the 1980s. Back then, technology to test blood for the presence of viruses was not yet available.

With this technology now accessible, there has been public debate and protest over the prevention policy, especially as Americans witnessed the UK, Brazil, Australia, and Japan modify or eliminate their own ban on taking blood donations from men who have sex with men.

Time for change

Finally, the FDA has announced a move to finalise a new set of guidelines that will allow gay or bisexual men to donate blood. The ability to donate will be decided after individuals answer a series of questions about their recent sexual activity.

The questions will seek to find out whether an individual has had new or multiple partners within the last three months and what kind of sexual activity they’ve partaken in.

The LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD celebrated the lifted ban, calling it the end of a ‘dark and discriminatory past rooted in fear and homophobia.’

Unfortunately, people taking the HIV-prevention medication PrEP still won’t be able to donate blood, as it can result in a false-positive HIV blood test result. This caveat was scrutinised by GLAAD.

The organisation said this would create an ‘unnecessary stigma’ towards the use of the drug. Still, most individuals agree it is a massive step in the right direction.

Why is this so monumental?

The US is not alone in being slow to change its policies. There remains a high number of countries that disallow blood donations from men who have sex with men.

This is a shame because many gay and bisexual men want to donate blood. On top of this, even a single donation of blood can help save a life, or multiple lives if the blood is separated into red cells, platelets, and plasma.

The availability of blood in hospitals is essential for patients undergoing surgery, cancer treatment, chronic illnesses, as well as traumatic injuries.

Studies also show that donating blood is a healthy practice, lowering the risk of cancers in the throat, lungs, stomach, liver, and stomach. This is because it releases the build-up of iron in the blood.

The chief executive of America’s Blood Centers Kate Fry said that individual assessments of every donor will improve the safety and overall amount of blood supplies in hospitals and blood banks, while simultaneously ‘treating all donors with the fairness and respect they deserve.’