The U.S.’s Food and Drug Administration announced last week that the current lifetime ban on donating blood by gay and bisexual men will remain in effect.
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese described that statement as “a commitment to prejudice over science,” adding that, “leading blood services organisations agree that there is no rational justification for treating gay and bisexual men different than straight men. Given modern testing and the fact that anyone can be vulnerable to infection, there is no medical or scientific rationale for this discriminatory policy.”
In March of 2006, the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB), America’s Blood Centers (ABC) and the American Red Cross (ARC) testified before the FDA that the lifetime ban for men who have sex with men “is medically and scientifically unwarranted” and that “it does not appear rational to broadly differentiate sexual transmission via male-to-male sexual activity from that via heterosexual activity on scientific grounds.”
The FDA policy dictates that even a single incident of MSM (men who have sex with men) activity since 1977 places that potential donor on a lifetime deferral list.
The policy was established in the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic before the advent of sophisticated DNA and serologic testing mechanisms that eliminate the risk of introducing HIV and other harmful agents into the general blood supply.
“Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the threat of catastrophic terrorist attack make our nation’s need for a robust and safe blood supply even more acute. The real public health threat is closing the door on countless numbers of men who selflessly want to donate blood.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Food and Drug Administration chose not to heed the advice of the Red Cross and other groups and put science and our nation’s security over misguided prejudice,” said Solmonese.
Until recently, South Africa’s National Blood Service had a ban on men who had sex with men in the five years preceding the donation. In November last year the deferral period was reduced to six months. This means that gay men who are celibate for six months or longer are able to donate blood.
Local activists also maintain that the policy is discriminatory and unscientific.