The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has revised its list of recommendations on who can and cannot donate blood, with the stated goal of reducing the risk of HIV transmission in mind.
Most notable is the recommendation regarding men who have sex with men.
The previous guidelines denied any man who had sex with another man even just once since 1977 — several years ahead of the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic — the opportunity to give blood.
The guidelines, updated on the FDA website last month, now deny only those men who have had sex with another man within the previous 12 months the chance to donate.
(Interestingly enough, the FDA also recommends a 12-month deferral of any female donor who has had sex with a man who has had sex with another man within the previous 12 months.)
The FDA based its decision on extensive data and various studies conducted worldwide, as well as the experiences of countries like the United Kingdom and Australia which require men to wait to donate blood if they have had sex with other men.
Although the FDA’s updated recommendations don’t specifically mention “gays,” “bisexuals” or “sexual orientation” as criteria for determining who can and cannot give blood, LGBT rights activists say it’s discriminatory to deny any man who has had sex with another man at any point in time the opportunity to donate.
National Gay Blood Drive (NGBD) issued a statement on its website welcoming the FDA’s policy change, but with a call for further revisions. NGBD, founded in 2012, organizes nationwide blood drives for gay and bisexual men who want to contribute to the nation’s blood supply.
“While gay and bisexual men will be eligible to donate their blood and help save lives under this 12-month deferral, countless more will continue to be banned solely on the basis of their sexual orientation and without medical or scientific reasoning,” the statement reads. “We strongly encourage the FDA to move toward a deferral based upon individual risk assessment.”
According to the American Red Cross (ARC) website, although 38 percent of the population in this country is eligible to donate, less than 10 percent actually do.
The ARC adds that just one donation can save up to three lives.
The “Frequently Asked Questions” page at the Community Blood Center of the Carolinas website makes clear that the FDA requires screening questions be asked of donors with each donation.
It also states that all blood products collected are tested for infectious diseases and that, as per the FDA recommendation, anyone who has tested positive for HIV may not donate.
FDA Recommendations on Deferring Potential Blood Donors
- Defer indefinitely an individual who has ever had a positive test for HIV.
- Defer indefinitely an individual who has ever exchanged sex for money or drugs.
- Defer indefinitely an individual who has ever engaged in injection drug use that was not prescribed.
- Defer for 12 months from the most recent contact any individual who has a history of sex with a person who: has ever had a positive test for HIV, ever exchanged sex for money or drugs, or ever engaged in non-prescription injection drug use.
- Defer for 12 months from the most recent transfusion any individual who has a history of receiving a transfusion of Whole Blood or blood components donated by another person (allogeneic transfusion).
- Defer for 12 months from the most recent exposure any individual who has a history of through-the-skin contact with the blood of another individual, such as a needle stick or blood contact with an open wound or mucous membrane.
- Defer for 12 months from the most recent tattoo, ear or body piercing. However, individuals who have undergone tattooing within 12 months of donation are eligible to donate if the tattoo was applied by a state regulated entity with sterile needles and non-reused ink. Individuals who have undergone ear or body piercing within 12 months of donation are eligible to donate if the piercing was done using single-use equipment.
- Defer for 12 months after completion of treatment any individual with a history of syphilis or gonorrhea or with a history of diagnosis or treatment for syphilis or gonorrhea in the past 12 months.
- Defer for 12 months from the most recent contact a man who has had sex with another man during the past 12 months.
- Defer for 12 months from the most recent contact a female who has had sex during the past 12 months with a man who has had sex with another man in the past 12 months.
For more information on donating blood:
American Red Cross-Western North Carolina Region
Community Blood Center of the Carolinas
National Gay Blood Drive