End the FDA's Discriminatory Deferral Policy - Allow Gay Men to Donate Blood!
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In the days after the 2016 massacre on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, lines wove around blood donation banks with people eager to help. Gay men, however, were turned away - a stinging insult to an already grieving community. In trying to do something good, these men were publicly humiliated by a screening questionnaire that equated their sexual identity to intravenous, non-prescription drug use and prostitution.
Though it is undeniable that this original policy was critical in ensuring the safety of the national blood supply in the early days of the AIDS crisis, advancements in technology have rendered this ban unnecessary. When the first HIV-specific antibody test came out in 1987, the risk of HIV transmission from the blood supply was 1 in every 153,123 units of blood (assuming an 8-week incubation period during which HIV is undetectable). Four generations of testing later, modern HIV screening has near-perfect sensitivity, minimizing the incubation window to 9 to 14 days. Today, the risk of transmitting HIV through a blood transfusion is 1 in 1.5 million. By comparison, the odds of getting struck by lightning are 1 in 960,000.
The logic of the current deferral policy is laughably illogical: a man who is in a monogamous relationship with another man and undergoes frequent HIV testing (every three to six months) with repeatedly negative results is prohibited from donating blood. On the other hand, a straight man who has frequent unprotected sex with female partners of unknown HIV status is not barred from donating. Similarly, a woman who has unprotected anal sex with partners of unknown HIV status is similarly allowed to donate.
In 2015, the policy was changed from a lifetime ban to a twelve-month deferral period - a step in the right direction, but unrealistically requiring that MSM remain celibate for an entire year. This discriminatory policy continues to perpetuate the association between gay sex, risky sex, and HIV. The FDA would better protect the blood supply by modifying their policy to defer individuals who have had unprotected sex with partners of unknown HIV status in the two weeks prior to donation - regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
With this in mind, we, the members of the LGBTQ community and our allies, demand that the FDA reevaluate their outdated discriminatory blood donation policy, and instead implement one that does a better job protecting the blood supply by redefining the criteria for deferral to anyone participating in risky sexual behavior - not a blanket ban on a community eager to do their part to save lives!
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