In a clear sign of the how far we’ve come in terms of the science surrounding HIV/AIDS, last week 82 lawmakers sent a bipartisan, bicameral letter to Secretary of HHS, Kathleen Sebelius urging her agency to revisit the lifetime ban on blood donation by men who have sex with men (MSM). Initiated in the Senate by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and in the House by Reps. Mike Quigley (D-IL), and Barbara Lee (D-CA), they request information about HHS efforts toward bringing the policy in line with today’s science.
The letter states, "Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic more than 30 years ago, the scientific community’s understanding of the virus has changed dramatically. We have seen vast advances in blood screening technology, blood donation policy changes in other countries allowing MSM to donate, and opposition from our nation’s blood banks who have called the current ban 'medically and scientifically unwarranted.'"
The lifetime deferral policy currently in place made sense in the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic but can no longer be justified in light of scientific research and updated blood screening technology. Recognizing this, the HHS Advisory Committee on Blood & Tissue Safety & Availability (ACBTSA) asked for re-evaluation of the policy in 2010 and HHS initiated studies which would support changes to the MSM deferral criteria. Recently, the American Medical Association (AMA) passed a resolution emphasizing that the ban on blood donation by MSM is discriminatory. In addition the AMA along with the Red Cross and the blood banking community support updating the donation policy so that it is based on today’s evidence and science.
HRC has urged the Administration to take another look at the current policy and applauds these leaders in Congress who want to ensure the nation’s health policies are supported by sound, and up-to-date science. We look forward to sharing HHS’ response to the letter.