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GLMA urges FDA to revise blood donation policy
Current guidelines cited as ‘dangerous, outdated and unscientific’

by Lisa Shaner

‘Two decades ago, when the agent that causes AIDS was unknown, these guidelines might have made sense …’
— GLMA Executive Director Joel Ginsberg
The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) has called for the Food and Drug Administration to revise its blood donation policy regarding men who have sex with men. Within the past year the American Red Cross and other organizations that collect donated blood, including the American Association of Blood Banks and America’s Blood Centers, have encouraged the 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 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 and much more accurately than older testing methods.

“Two decades ago, when the agent that causes AIDS was unknown, these guidelines might have made sense based on the very limited data available at that time,” said GLMA Executive Director Joel Ginsberg. “Today, however, all donated units of blood are tested, not just for antibodies to HIV, but for the presence of the virus itself. These guidelines, which prohibit any man who has had sex with another man since 1977, have the effect of excluding all gay men from donating blood.” Ginsberg noted that the epidemiology of the HIV epidemic has changed and that heterosexual women are now the fastest-growing demographic group to be diagnosed with HIV infection.

“Rational blood donation guidelines need to be founded upon the best evidence-based science and the behavior of individuals, not upon archaic data and preconceptions about groups of people,” Ginsberg continued. “The FDA’s current guidelines imply that gay men are the primary agents for the spread of HIV, while giving heterosexuals a false sense of security about their sexual behavior and responsibility. These are two very dangerous messages for the FDA to be reinforcing,” Ginsberg concluded.

“We urge the FDA to revise these outdated and unscientific blood donation guidelines immediately.”

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