Blood Donation Ban for MSM Should End Because Need for Donations ‘Too Great,’ Opinion Piece SaysFDA's ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men is a "shame" because the need for such donations in the Philadelphia area "far exceeds" what the regional American Red Cross is "able to collect," columnist Ronnie Polaneczky writes in a Philadelphia Daily News opinion piece (Polaneczky, Philadelphia Daily News, 1/15).
FDA in May 2007 reaffirmed its policy that prohibits MSM from donating blood. 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. 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 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, 5/24/07).
Polaneczky writes that Mark Segal, editor of the Philadelphia Gay News, said, "We've been fighting this for years," adding, "Things have changed, but the FDA hasn't changed with the times." According to Polaneczky, ARC, AABB and ABC -- a "coalition of heavy-hitters in the blood-collection world" -- called on FDA to "accept that blood-screening tests had become so sensitive and precise, it was no longer necessary to ban blood donations from [MSM] -- a ban instituted in the height of the AIDS crisis, in 1983." She continues that although a "one-year ban on donation following high-risk activity" would "more than cover" the window of exposure, FDA stands by its lifelong ban, adding that Steven Kleinman -- AABB's senior medical adviser -- said the policy is "discriminatory, scientifically marginal and unfair."
Polaneczky concludes that all donated blood is tested for HIV because the "collection agency can't rely on all donors to be truthful or even well-informed about their sexual activity." It therefore is "time for the FDA to come up to speed on this," she writes, adding, "Our need for donated blood is too great" (Philadelphia Daily News, 1/15). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.