Advisory Panel Recommends Easing Ban on Blood Donations by Gay Men

FDA will consider recommendation regarding blood donations from men who have had sex with men

A federal advisory panel has recommended that the US ease its ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.

The new recommendations suggest that men who have had sex with men should be allowed to give blood if they haven’t had sex with a man for one year, Bloomberg News reports.

The current policy prohibits blood donations from men who had sex with men anytime since 1977. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that policy dates back to 1983, when the risk of transmitting AIDS through blood transfusions was first recognized. The FDA argued that the ban was needed because gay and bisexual men, as a group, have a higher risk of HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be passed through blood transfusion.

On Thursday, though, the US Health and Human Services’ Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissues Safety and Availability voted 16-2 to partially end the ban. While the FDA is not bound to follow the recommendation, the committee will likely play an influential role in the FDA’s decision, according to Bloomberg.

It was less than five years ago that the Health and Human Services advisers considered this same issue. Back then, they voted to keep the policy in place, even though they found that it allowed for some potentially high-risk donations while blocking some potentially low-risk donations. At the time, the advisers called for more research that might offer guidance for possible policy changes.

So why the change of opinion now? It appears the results from that research are in, and according to the Los Angeles Times, the committee concluded that new technologies make the ban obsolete.

The FDA site, however, outlines one reason the agency hasn’t made a change to the policy.

“HIV tests currently in use are highly accurate,” the FDA states, “but still cannot detect HIV 100 percent of the time. It is estimated that the HIV risk from a unit of blood has been reduced to about 1 per 2 million in the USA, almost exclusively from so called ‘window period’ donations.”

The window period the FDA refers to is the period of time shortly after a person becomes infected when viral levels are too low for current methods to detect. That means a person could test negative for HIV but actually be infected.

Many prominent groups support lifting the ban. The American Red Cross, AABB and America’s Blood Centers have jointly called for the one-year deferral period.