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After a confusing few weeks in which the Food and Drug Administration first appeared to consider trashing its decades-old policy prohibiting blood donation from men who have sex with men, then had a panel decline to rule on ending the practice, the agency announced today that the ban will be partially lifted in 2015. It will be replaced with a one-year ban — meaning any man who has had sex with another man cannot donate blood for a year afterward, even if they are in a monogamous relationship and definitely free of sexually transmitted diseases.
The New York Times reports that the change could increase the blood donation supply by two to four percent annually, according to research by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. The Institute has reported that lifting the planned one-year ban could double the potential new supply.
But even achieving that one-year ban seems to have been a struggle; the panel from last week made it clear they thought allowing MSM to donate at all presented a serious health concern. Despite urging from organizations like the American Medical Association, the Department of State Health Services and the American Red Cross, panel member Dr. Susan Leitman said the pressure to end the ban was “about policy and civil rights rather than our primary duty, which is transfusion safety.” But, as Audrey reported here a couple weeks ago, transfusion safety seems to have been the FDA’s flimsy excuse for locking a huge group of the population out over decades-old fears about HIV/AIDS — despite the fact that all donated blood is tested for the virus with methods infinitely more accurate than at the height of the AIDS crisis:
To make this as clear as possible: Straight people who have sex with an opposite sex partner who definitely has HIV only have to wait a year to give blood. Gay and bi men who have sex with a man at any point in their lives, even if their partner definitely didn’t have HIV, can never donate.
Some are hopeful that today’s announcement will lead to a complete disposal of the ban, especially given the ongoing blood shortage that has groups like the Red Cross constantly reminding people to consider donation. That group reports that every two seconds, someone in the U.S. requires a blood transfusion. Now, thanks to this long overdue change, the lifesaving supply will be a little bit bigger.