The Fenway Institute today commends the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for announcing steps to end a 31-year-old policy banning all men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood. The FDA intends to change the blood donor deferral period for MSM to one year after having sexual contact with another man, which is the current deferral period in place for heterosexual men and women who wish to donate blood and report having had sex with a person known to be HIV positive.
“The proposed one-year deferral policy is a welcome and important step in the right direction,” said Sean Cahill, Director of Health Policy Research at The Fenway Institute. “Much has changed since 1983, when the current policy was first implemented, including the efficacy of technology to test blood for HIV.”
The policy change will align with the recommendation of an independent advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and will be formally issued in 2015 after the public has an opportunity to comment on the change in policy. If adopted, the new policy will bring U.S. blood donation regulations current with more than 20 other countries including Britain, Australia, and Japan that have replaced a lifetime MSM donor ban with a deferral periods ranging from six months to five years.
“This proposed policy change protects the blood supply while allowing low-risk gay and bisexual men to donate blood,” added Cahill, who testified in front of the FDA’s Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability in June 2010 in support of a change in the blood donation policy. “That said, we believe the optimal policy is one that screens out all high-risk potential donors, regardless of sexual orientation. A married gay man who is HIV negative and in a monogamous relationship with his HIV negative spouse would still be prohibited from donating blood under the proposed one-year deferral policy. Heterosexual people face no such prohibitions, regardless of their marital status or sexual practices.”