Commemorating World Blood Donor Day
June 14, 2012 by Robin Maril, Senior Legislative Counsel
Today commemorates World Blood Donor Day. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes today to focus national efforts on improving the safety and adequacy of national blood supplies by promoting a substantial increase in the number of safe and voluntary blood donors who regularly donate blood. Despite the critical need for blood donations today, gay and bisexual men are ineligible to donate blood. The current policy set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibits men who have had sex with men (MSM) even once since 1977 from donating blood. This prohibition includes gay and bisexual men who are HIV-negative, consistently practice safe sex, or who are in long-term monogamous relationships. Far less restrictive donation deferrals apply to heterosexual men and women who engage in high-risk sexual behavior.
In July 2011, The Department of Health and Human Services released a Q&A outlining next steps toward ending the ban. In the Q&A document, HHS provided that it would pursue four areas of study to determine whether the gay blood ban can be lifted. In June 2010, HHS’s Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability voted to retain the “lifetime deferral” for gay and bisexual men, but also concluded that the current policy is “suboptimal” because it keeps out low-risk gay and bisexual donors while failing to prevent high-risk heterosexual individuals from donating. The Committee recommended further research to support a revised blood donation policy that would increase the number of healthy donors while continuing to protect the safety of the blood supply.
In March of this year, HHS began the process of developing a study of the current eligibility policy that bans MSM from donating blood. In a notice published in the federal register, HHS provided that “The concept is to conduct a pilot operational study, in which MSM who meet specified criteria would be permitted to donate blood, with additional safeguards in place to protect blood recipients during the course of the study.”
HRC has been involved in urging the FDA to revisit current blood donation guidelines to maximize eligible donors as well as maintaining, if not increasing, the safety of the U.S. blood supply. HRC will continue to support the development of new bodies of research and data as the next step to ending this ban.
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