FDA called on to lift restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood during ‘crisis’

There is mounting pressure from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to replace a rule that prevents some gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

A group of 22 US Senators, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar signed a letter asking the agencies to lift the rule they describe as ‘discriminatory and wrong’.

The call comes as the American Red Cross warns that the nation is facing a “blood crisis” due to declining levels of donations due to the pandemic. The organization reports that some hospitals and donation centers only have blood in stock for a day.

Rules against men who have sex with other men (MSM) who donate blood date back to the 1980s in the US Although restrictions have been relaxed in recent years, an MSM who has had sex with a man – or a woman who has had sex with an MSM during that period – is currently no longer allowed to donate blood.

A group of 22 senators is calling on the FDA and HHS to lift restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood. Earlier this week, the Red Cross announced that the US was facing a “blood crisis,” with some hospitals and blood centers only having blood on hand for a day. Blood donations have fallen by 10% since the start of the pandemic. Pictured: A woman in Los Angeles, California, donates blood on December 13

The senators called the restrictions on blood donation by gay men “discriminatory and wrong.” Currently, an MSM, a man who has sex with other men, is not allowed to donate blood within three months of their last sexual activity. Gay rights advocates argue that the declining HIV/AIDS prevalence and available disease prevention measures make it safe for gay men to donate blood. Pictured: Gay rights advocates during a march held by the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group

“While no single solution can completely solve these challenges, the FDA has the ability to take a simple and science-based step to dramatically increase the donor base and address this crisis,” the letter reads.

“…any policy that the LGBTQ+ community continues to categorically single out is discriminatory and wrong.”

Earlier this week, the Red Cross said the US was in a “blood crisis” due to declining donations.

The organization reports that total donations have fallen ten percent since the COVID-19 pandemic began in America in March 2020.

Schools and universities are often a critical part of blood donation campaigns, but the total number of donations to educational institutions has fallen by 62 percent during the pandemic.

Many other blood donation campaigns have been canceled due to staffing problems, the Red Cross reports, as the blood donation industry faces many of the same problems as the rest of America.

“At a time when many businesses and organizations across the country are facing pandemic challenges, the Red Cross is no different,” it wrote in a statement.

Currently, any MSM that has been active in the past three months is not allowed to donate blood. They are removed from the candidacy of a mandatory pre-donation screening that people complete in America.

“Given advances in blood screening and safety technology, a time-based policy for gay and bisexual men is scientifically unjustified, continues to effectively exclude an entire group of people and does not meet the pressing demands of the moment,” the letter reads. . .

Restrictions on blood donation by MSM date back to 1983 in America. At the time, HIV and AIDS were new diseases that were rampant among gay men, although the world did not have a good understanding of the diseases.

“Given advances in blood screening and safety technology, a time-based policy for gay and bisexual men is scientifically unjustified, continues to effectively exclude an entire group of people and does not meet the pressing demands of the moment,” the letter reads. from FDA and HHS Senators. (file photo)

At the time, a heightened stigma was placed on gay men and the fear that HIV and AIDS would enter the blood supply led to restrictions.

However, the prevalence of HIV has dropped significantly over time as people are now more aware of the condition and how to prevent it, and many in the developed world now have access to technology that aids the transmission of the virus. prevent.

“With increased use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), which significantly reduces the likelihood of an HIV-negative individual contracting HIV, many more gay and bisexual men are becoming aware of their HIV status and are taking steps to personal risk,” the senators’ letter reads.

“Instead of current guidelines for categorical delay, we should adopt evidence-based policies that focus on assessing individual risk, not on imprecise and outdated stereotypes.”

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 15,000 Americans died of HIV or AIDS in 2019, far fewer than the peak of more than 40,000 deaths in the late 1980s.

In 2015, the FDA and HHS revised rules to allow MSM to donate blood as long as it has been 12 months since their last sexual activity.

When Covid arrived in the US, many medical professionals immediately feared it would cause blood shortages.

The FDA responded by shortening the period to three months in early April 2020, just weeks after the pandemic.

However, many medical professionals criticized the FDA at the time, with 500 writing an open letter to the agencies later in April 2020 to lift the restrictions completely.

Now that the feared blood shortage has been realised, pressure is mounting on government officials once again to lift the restrictions.

The FDA and HHS have not yet responded to the letter.

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