FDA Reaffirms Policy Barring MSM From Donating BloodFDA on Wednesday reaffirmed a policy that prohibits men who have sex with men from donating blood, the AP/New York Times reports (AP/New York Times, 5/24). According to the policy, which has been in effect since the early 1980s, MSM are barred from donating blood regardless of sexual activity, safer-sex practices or HIV status. Potential blood donors are asked to fill out a questionnaire before donating, and MSM, injection drug users, people who received a tattoo within the previous 12 months and pregnant women are prohibited from donating. The American Red Cross, 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 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. 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/23).
FDA on Wednesday in a statement posted on its Web site said it would modify the policy if it receives data showing that doing so would not pose a "significant and preventable" risk to blood recipients, the AP/Times reports. The agency said that current HIV tests are highly accurate but still cannot detect the virus 100% of the time. According to the AP/Times, opponents of the policy say it is discriminatory and prevents healthy donors from giving blood even as the need for donated blood increases. FDA has acknowledged that the policy prevents some healthy blood donations but denied that the policy is discriminatory, the AP/Times reports. "I am disappointed, I must confess," Celso Bianco -- executive vice president of America's Blood Centers, whose members provide nearly 50% of the country's blood supply -- said (AP/New York Times, 5/24). She added, "It is a way of saying, 'Whatever was presented to us was not sufficient to make us change our minds'" (Associated Press, 5/23). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.