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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Blood safety panel recommends change to gay donation ban
by Matt Simonette

This article shared 4159 times since Fri Nov 14, 2014
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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ( HHS ) Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability voted 16-2 on Nov. 13 to recommend that the blood donor deferral policy for men who have sex with men be switched from a lifetime deferral—meaning that any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 be excluded from donating blood—to a one-year deferral.

Under the recommended policy, gay and bisexual men would be able to donate blood after having abstained from sex for a year.

"Today I spoke before the committee as a 19-year-old advocate, as well as the plaintiff in the lawsuit recently filed against the FDA regarding their blood ban," said Virginia-based advocate Caleb Laieski in a Nov. 13 statement. "…Today progress was made certainly made and more lives will be saved, however we still have lots of work to get done."

The committee recommendation, while not binding, is likely to be influential when the Food and Drug Administration's Blood Products Advisory Committee reconsiders the policy in early December. That panel will in turn issue further recommendations to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

While the recommendation represents a significant shift away from the outright ban, most advocates said even this new policy, if implemented, is an overreach.

Suraj Madoori, manager of the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, said that the recommendation is a "step in the right direction, but there is still a focus on temporal factors instead of actual risk factors. We're still asking them to reevaluate the policy."

David Munar, president and CEO of Howard Brown Health Center ( HBHC ), added, "This recent development is a step in the right direction, given that the lifetime ban was a serious overreach. And while these new blood donation recommendations are a sign of progress and will allow for some gay and bisexual men to donate blood, they are still discriminatory and potentially stigmatizing. Being a man who has sex with a man is not the risk factor, being HIV-positive is—and the two are not always one and the same."

In July, HBHC was among the health providers taking part in the National Gay Blood Drive, wherein gay men showed up to donation centers along with a surrogate who would actually donate blood on their behalf; both then signed a petition demanding the ban be lifted.

Munar pointed to advocacy on behalf of U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, among others, for working on the issue. In August 2013, Quigley was among 85 members of Congress who wrote a letter to then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius asking the Obama administration to lift the ban.

In a Nov. 14 statement, Quigley said, "As the leader of the bipartisan, bicameral effort to reverse the FDA's discriminatory policy, I welcome open dialogue about the policy, but am disappointed in the recommendation. … I encourage the HHS Blood Safety Advisory Committee to revisit their recommendation and hope this is only the beginning of a conversation to change outdated and discriminatory policies, bringing equality for the LGBT community while still protecting the U.S. blood supply."

"This recommendation—although nominally better than the existing policy—falls far short because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men, preventing them from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation," added David Stacy, government affairs director of Human Rights Campaign. "The current policy, adopted in the earliest days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the new recommendation are both simply wrong and can no longer be justified in light of scientific research and updated blood screening technology. It's far past time for this stigma to end."

Officials from the American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks, and America's Blood Centers, who have long called for a lift to the ban, praised the recommendation, BuzzFeed reported Nov. 13. Members of the American Medical Association voted to oppose the ban in 2013.

According to the FDA policy on the matter, "A history of male-to-male sex is associated with an increased risk for exposure to and transmission of certain infectious diseases, including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Men who have had sex with other men represent approximately 2% of the US population, yet are the population most severely affected by HIV. … FDA's deferral policy is based on the documented increased risk of certain transfusion transmissible infections, such as HIV, associated with male-to-male sex and is not based on any judgment concerning the donor's sexual orientation."

But a September study released by the Los Angeles-based Williams Institute suggested that lifting the ban would increase the total annual blood supply by about 2%-4%. Basing their estimates on American Red Cross figures suggesting each donation has the potential to impact three lives, the researchers concluded that lifting the ban could potentially save the lives of 1.8 million people.

This article shared 4159 times since Fri Nov 14, 2014
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