With better HIV tests, should FDA end its ban on gay men donating blood?

Raymond Robbins was ready to roll up his sleeve and give blood for the first time when a question asked of potential donors stopped him cold:

“From 1977 to the present, have you had sexual contact with another male, even once?”

“I answered yes, but I was caught off guard by the question,” said Robbins, 28, of Washington.

His answer got him turned away, stopped by a longstanding Food and Drug Administration policy that bans sexually active gay men from ever donating blood. The federal ban, now three decades old, has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years as HIV detection tests and procedures for screening donated blood have improved greatly and blood shortages have become common.

“It makes me feel like I’m placed in a negative category, like they are labeling me as diseased and decrepit,” said Robbins, who because of the ban has never tried to give blood since being rejected 10 years ago during high school. “The policy is very backward.”

But the FDA defends the ban, saying men who have sex with men are at a much higher-than-average risk of HIV and other infections that can be transmitted through transfusions. Although the FDA wouldn’t make officials available for an interview, the agency said in a statement that it’s trying to protect the public and is basing its policy on science, not “any judgment concerning the donor’s sexual orientation.”

The FDA said studies are underway that could lead it to reevaluate the ban, which was most recently upheld after a 2010 review by the Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability. Meanwhile, a similar ban was lifted last year in England, Scotland and Wales, which now allow men to give blood if they haven’t had sex with another man for at least a year, more than enough time for HIV to be detected in their blood.

 

Time for a change?…..

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