Revising Blood Donation Guidelines for Gay Men: the Importance of World Blood Donor Day
June 10, 2011
This post comes from Nathan Schaefer, Director of Public Policy for GMHC.
Today commemorates World Blood Donor Day, a day the World Health Organization recognizes as a day 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. Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) has been very involved in advocating for reform of current blood donation guidelines to expand the list of eligible donors while simultaneously maintaining the safety of the U.S. blood supply. Current blood donor eligibility policies in the U.S are largely inconsistent, imposing significantly less restrictive deferrals to heterosexual men and women who engage in high-risk sexual behavior, yet permanently banning any man who has had sex with another man, even once, since 1977, from donating blood. This includes gay and bisexual men who are HIV-negative, consistently practice safe sex, or are in monogamous, long-term relationships. Furthermore, the policy does not reflect the huge advances in HIV testing technology made over the last 25 years that can detect HIV virus within 9 – 11 days of infection, currently used on all donated blood.
In February 2010, GMHC released a comprehensive report titled A Drive For Change: Reforming U.S. Blood Donation Policies, which discusses the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) current blood donation guidelines and provides recommendations for alternative guidelines that emphasize behavior-based deferrals. In June 2010, GMHC provided testimony at the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability (ACBSA) meeting held to review the policy that permanently defers men who have sex with men (MSM). Though the ACBSA voted in favor of maintaining the ban due to a lack of scientific data available to support a change to an alternative policy, they did provide recommendations in favor of research, including modifying the donor screening process to better differentiate low-versus high-risk MSM and heterosexual behaviors. GMHC is very supportive of these recommendations which concern broader issues of blood safety reform.
The current deferral criteria preclude donations from many low-risk MSM donors despite the ongoing threat of blood shortages across the country. To that end, GMHC does not support the boycotting of any blood drives on university campuses, places of employment, or elsewhere. We find this tactic counterproductive and detrimental to the nation’s blood supply. We do, however, endorse alternative creative approaches that simultaneously raise awareness of the absolute deferral of MSM donors and increase blood donations. One such example is that of an Indiana University student who, being openly gay and thus ineligible to donate, encouraged his peers to participate in the blood drive and cumulatively donate enough blood to match his body weight. The campaign proved both effective and productive.
GMHC continues to work alongside other stakeholders concerned with improving the safety of the nation’s blood supply, including national HIV, LGBT, and hemophilia advocacy organizations. We remain in conversation with researchers and federal employees to assist with swift implementation of the Committee’s recommendations. To learn more, or to stay involved with advocacy efforts, visit gmhc.org.
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