Pressure is mounting to relax gay blood donation rules

Manufacturing Tech Delaysia Henry places packets of blood into a container, preparing them for shipment to a Red Cross blood donation center hospital in St. Louis on January 12, as the American Red Cross said a national blood crisis. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License picture

A three-month sexual abstinence rule for blood donations from sexually active gay and bisexual men should be scrapped by the US Food and Drug Administration, critics demand as the country grapples with a shortage of blood.

Currently, given the low risk of HIV infection, men who have sex with men must abstain from sex with other men for 90 days before they can give blood.

It’s a rule seen as discriminatory by advocates and seen by many in the medical community as an unnecessary barrier to donating blood.

In April 2020, the FDA reduced the abstinence requirement from 12 months to three months of abstinence, which was done at the urging of lawmakers and advocates as the country faced a blood shortage caused by a pandemic.

The issue was sparked again this week when the Red Cross announced that soaring COVID-19 cases had caused the “worst blood shortage in over a decade”.

This led to a call from LGBTQ advocates and nearly two dozen members of Congress for the FDA to drop the abstinence requirement.

“Any policy that continues to categorically target the LGBTQ+ community is discriminatory and misguided. Given advances in blood screening and safety technology, a time-based policy for gay and bisexual men is not scientifically sound, continues to de facto exclude an entire group of people, and fails to respond to the urgent demands of the moment,” 22 senators said in a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and the commissioner by Acting FDA, Dr. Janet Woodcock.

Richard Benjamin, the former chief medical officer of the American Red Cross, who is now chief medical officer of the biomedical products company Cerus Corp., argued that, based on the science of HIV testing, the period three-month waiting period is not applicable.

“If you’re infected with HIV, for the first to two weeks you’ll test negative. So there’s a scientific rationale for saying, ‘Well, if there’s a risk, there’s got to be a delay. ‘” Benjamin told NBC News. “But it’s not three months, it’s more like 10 days.”

This isn’t the first time the agency has been asked to change the rule: The Red Cross and leading medical groups such as the American Medical Association have previously urged the FDA to lift a ban on donations to men who have sex with men.

If that happened, there would be a 2% to 4% increase — an additional 345,400 to 615,300 pints of blood — in the country’s annual blood supply, according to the Williams Institute, a faculty think tank. right from UCLA.

Since the start of the pandemic, blood donations have dropped by 10%, according to the Red Cross.

More information

Visit the Red Cross to learn more about donating blood.

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