Groups Urge FDA To Review Policy That Bans MSM From Donating Blood
The American Red Cross and other organizations that collect donated blood are urging FDA to review a policy in effect since the early 1980s that prohibits men who have sex with men -- regardless of sexual activity, safer-sex practices or HIV status -- from donating blood, the San Jose Mercury News reports. According to the San Jose Mercury News, potential blood donors are asked to fill out a questionnaire before donating, and MSM, injection drug users, people who got a tattoo within the previous 12 months and pregnant women are prohibited from donating. A California high school student recently was not permitted to donate blood after he identified himself as an MSM, prompting some groups to challenge the FDA policy, which they claim is discriminatory. ARC, the American Association of Blood Banks and America's Blood Centers in March 2006 asked FDA to review the policy, saying that banning MSM from donating blood within 12 months of sexual activity with another man would be more fair than a lifelong ban, the Mercury News reports. The groups say that the likelihood of receiving a unit of HIV-infected blood is one in two million and that blood banks use nucleic acid testing, which detects HIV and hepatitis earlier than older testing methods. Michael Busch, vice president for Research and Scientific Affairs of the Blood Centers of the Pacific, said, "The testing systems are extremely robust because we test for antibodies and the virus itself." In addition, HIV is increasingly transmitted through heterosexual sex, and women account for more than one-quarter of all new HIV/AIDS cases in the U.S., according to CDC. Karen Riley, an FDA spokesperson, said that the agency reviews the policy periodically but that discussions usually support the current policy. "We understand that our recommendation for permanent deferral has the effect of deferring all gay men, but it really comes down to epidemiology," Riley said, adding, "Men who have sex with men are 60 times more likely to be HIV-infected than the general population. ... The policy is in place for the protection of the nation's blood supply." California Assembly member John Laird (D) said, "The FDA policy is out of date and is based on facts that existed a quarter of a century ago," adding, "I'm worried that we're cutting off a potential source of blood that is sorely needed" (Hull, San Jose Mercury News, 1/22).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.