(NEW YORK) — The American Medical Association voted Tuesday to oppose a decades long ban by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which prohibits gay men from donating blood.
The FDA ban originated in 1983 in response to the AIDS outbreak, when little was known about the virus and gay men were more likely to have contracted the virus.
However, now that the ban is almost 30 years old, some experts say the policy is outdated. HIV and AIDS testing has become standard practice in blood donations to minimize risk to recipients. According to the FDA’s website, approximately one in two million blood transfusions results in an HIV infection.
“The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science,” AMA board member Dr. William Kobler said 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.”
The AMA recommends that the FDA change its policy so that gay men are evaluated on an individual level rather than being lumped together in a high-risk category, in addition to crafting a policy that more accurately represents scientific research.
Robert Valadez, policy analyst for the HIV/AIDS advocacy group Gay Men’s Health Crisis, said the ban was outdated in light of medical advances that can detect HIV in donated blood in nearly all blood donations.
“The policy was formed at a time in our history when we didn’t have a name for AIDS or HIV,” said Valadez. “Our technology has advanced to the point where…it is antiquated to keep this policy in place and to keep those units of blood from entering the blood supply.”
Louis Katz, the vice president for America’s Blood Centers, which provides nearly half of America’s blood supply, said one option for the FDA is to adopt policies similar to those used abroad. In countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, gay men are allowed to donate blood if they have abstained from sex with a man for a certain period of time.
“A year [of abstinence] has been adopted in the United Kingdom and Australia,” said Katz, who stressed this would just be a first step. “We understand that it is problematic, but it would be movement from where we’ve been since the early 80s.”
According to the FDA website, gay men represent 61 percent of all new HIV infections in the U.S.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created an advisory committee to discuss the policy. The Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers and AABB, a non-profit representing individuals and institutions involved in the field of transfusion medicine, released a joint statement advocating to change the policy to allow men, who have had sex with men, to donate blood as long as a certain amount of time has passed since their last sexual encounter.
In 2012, HHS submitted a request for information from additional studies on the potential outcomes of changing the blood donation criteria. They are still evaluating the comments they received.
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