FDA to Consider Allowing More Gay and Bisexual Men to Donate Blood

The Food and Drug Administration is planning to allow more gay and bisexual men to donate blood under new guidelines.

Donating blood can help save many lives. From accidents to cancer patients to those suffering from anemia or even malnutrition, blood is a crucial part of our body. Our body needs a regular supply of blood and fortunately has the power to be transferred from one person to another.

With the power of blood, it is important that there are as many blood donors as possible. To make this happen, the FDA has been partnering with different organizations to create a new research study to allow more gay and bisexual men to donate blood.

In the past, policies iterated that men having sexual intercourse with other men are banned from donating blood for the risk of HIV transmission.

The FDA rule came into place in the 1980s during the ongoing AIDS epidemic. The law was eventually cleared in 2015, but gay and bisexual men donating blood had to abstain from sexual intercourse for a year before being allowed to donate.

Men who have sex with men (MSM) are currently to refrained from donating blood until they have abstained from sexual intercourse for the past three months, as that is how long it takes for HIV viruses to show up after infection.

With the pandemic that began on January 10, 2020, America was faced with a blood shortage. On April 2, 2020, the FDA decided to change the law from one year of abstinence to three months. The FDA is now planning to completely lift the ban, by performing an individualized test for potential donors to rid the risk of HIV transmission.

Who conducted the study?

The FDA decided to revamp their law after a study conducted by Vitalant, OneBlood, and the American Red Cross, found that an individual-risk test would be just as beneficial as waiting throughout the abstinence time.

In the ADVANCE (Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility) study, male participants between the age of 18 and 39 had to provide a series of answers and be assessed for potential transmission of HIV. The participants were gathered from Washington D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, and the study reached 2,000 eligible gay and bisexual men.

“If the scientific evidence supports the use of the different questions it could mean gay and bisexual men who present to donate would be assessed based upon their own individual risk for HIV infection and not according to when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” said American Red Cross Biomedical Services vice president of Scientific Affairs Susan Stramer.

The FDA is still reviewing and delineating the new risk assessment, and since unprotected anal sexual intercourse brings a larger chance of HIV transmission, it is crucial for the new law to be taken with precaution.

The abstinence policy caused much wound to the LGBTQ+ community and the new risk assessment policy will hopefully allow more people to donate bloods without strict restrictions based on sexual orientation. "We continue to assist in evaluating alternative donor eligibility criteria and the expanded use of new technologies to work toward elimination of donor eligibility questions based on sexual orientation that would no longer be necessary. However, as a regulated organization, we cannot unilaterally enact changes concerning the MSM deferral policy" stated the American Red Cross.

This collaborative study will allow the FDA to thoroughly research if an individualized risk test could effectively exchange the time limitation for MSM.

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