FDA Should Reconsider Policy Barring MSM From Donating Blood, Editorial SaysFDA "appears to have no evidence to justify its differential treatment" of people at increased risk of HIV who want to donate blood, a Washington Post editorial says (Washington Post, 6/12). According to an FDA policy, which has been in effect since the early 1980s, men who have sex with men 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. FDA last month 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/24).
The blood donation policy is "considerably stricter" for MSM than for "at-risk heterosexual groups," the editorial says, adding that a "heterosexual who has had sex with a known carrier of HIV ... must wait just a year before being able to donate blood." As "healthy" MSM are "turned away" from donating blood, high school and college campuses in the U.S. are canceling blood drives to "avoid endorsing an event that appears discriminatory," the editorial says, adding, "This modestly threatens local blood supply in the short-term and may prevent youths nationwide from developing the habit of giving blood in the long-term" (Washington Post, 6/12). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.