In a major development, the American Medical Association has voted against the country’s lifetime ban on gay men donating blood.

The ban was introduced in 1983 by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) soon after the emergence of the AIDS epidemic, amongst mostly gay men in the US.

According to the FDA, 61% of people newly infected with HIV in the US are gay men.

On Tuesday, the American Medical Association said, however, that continuing to bar gay men from giving blood is no longer justified.

“The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science,” said AMA board member Dr. William Kobler in a statement.

“This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone,” he said.

The FDA could choose the compromise taken by some countries that allows gay men who have not had sex for a period of time to donate blood. In South Africa gay men who’ve been celibate for six months or more may donate blood. This period is one year in the UK and Australia.

LGBT activists have argued that banning gay men at all makes little sense as it allows heterosexual people who practice risky sex to donate blood while barring gay men who practice safer or less risky sex.

They believe that each individual should be judged on the basis of the riskiness of their sex life, not on their sexual orientation, especially considering that today all donated blood is screened for HIV.

Unlike in the US, in South Africa the vast majority of people infected with HIV are heterosexual.

Also on Tuesday, the American Medical Association voted to approve the use of antiretroviral therapy as preventative treatment for those at risk of HIV infection.

“Research and new guidelines support immediate antiviral treatment for those at risk for HIV infection, and this policy will help physicians to provide the best possible care for their at-risk patients,” said Dr. Kobler.

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