After a 32-year ban, and just weeks after World AIDS Day, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has lifted its policy prohibiting blood donations from gay and bisexual men. However, in lieu of the ban, strict protocols have been implemented to regulate who can donate.
Under the new policy, men who are HIV negative can donate if they have not had sex with another man for at least a year.
During the 1980s, doctors first noticed the human immunodeficiency virus disease in gay men in Los Angeles and other large cities in the United States. The original ban, which barred all gay and bisexual men from donating blood, was put into effect in 1983 in an effort to stop HIV and AIDS from spreading.
What started as a policy to protect blood transfusion patients quickly turned into a looming stigma that affected the gay and bisexual community.
After years of research and advancements in health and medicine, many LGBT activist groups, AIDS organizations and medical groups have called the ban unfair and unnecessary.
Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said lifting the ban has been a tremendous leap forward for the LGBT community, but there is still a need for improvement.
“I think it’s a moderate decision and a step in the right direction,” Weinstein said. “I think there’s still worry that the restriction leaves room for discrimination, but I can see how the FDA wants to be cautions … better safe than sorry.”
Weinstein said while there is a window period for AIDS to be detected, he feels a yearlong abstinence policy is too much.
“With modern medicine the HIV virus can be detected within 14 days of infection,” Weinstein said. “While it’s up to the individual affected to be honest about when they might have been infected, and there is room for error with that merit system, I still believe a year is too long.”
As the FDA sees the effects of this new policy, he hopes it will shorten the time span.
Richard Bloom, assemblyman for California’s 50th district and a proponent for gay rights urged the FDA to do more.
“The ban on blood donation by gay and bisexual men was an outdated and offensive policy that did not reflect current science,” Bloom said. “I welcome this policy change by the FDA as an important step forward. Regrettably, the one-year deferral policy proposed by the FDA continues to stigmatize healthy, sexually active gay and bisexual men.”
During the 2014-2015 legislative sessions, Bloom co-authored a resolution with assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell), an openly gay representative, to urge the FDA to lift the ban altogether. He, along with several organizations statewide, have been actively fighting to lift the ban.
Dave Garcia, director of policy for the Los Angeles LGBT Center, said the policy is still discriminatory toward gay and bisexual men.
“If you have a gay man who hasn’t had sex in two weeks and wants to give blood, he’ll still be denied, while a straight man who could have been promiscuous within the last few weeks will be able to,” Garcia said. “I see something wrong with that. It’s not fair to gay men, and it’s not fair to people who need blood because ours is just a safe as anyone else’s.”
The Los Angeles LGBT Center, he noted, has been a proponent for getting rid of the ban on both a federal and local level.
“We’ve signed onto federal and citywide efforts to fight for LGBT rights, and the right to donate blood specifically,” Garcia said.
The FDA will still continue to refuse blood donations from people who have used non-prescription intravenous drugs and those who have solicited sex for money. In a statement made Monday, FDA officials said the new guidelines coincide with current research about AIDS.
“In reviewing our policies to help reduce the risk of HIV transmission through blood products, we rigorously examined several alternative options, including individual risk assessment,” said Peter Marks, deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “Ultimately, the 12-month deferral window is supported by the best available scientific evidence, at this point in time, relevant to the U.S. population.”
While FDA officials believe the new guidelines are adequate, the LGBT Center and other organizations said there is still work to be done.
“I think this is a step in the right direction, but we will continue to be just as active to advocate for a safe and fair policy for everyone,” Garcia said. “The one-year time span still discriminates against a large group of people, and we will continue to fight until that’s changed.”
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