- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The nation’s blood supply could see a significant increase if long-standing donor policies barring gay and bisexual men were eliminated, a new study says.

The study from a California institute projected that if the blood donor policy for gay and bisexual men was eliminated, these men could provide an extra 615,300 pints of blood a year.

Such an increase in the blood supply could save up to 1.8 million lives, according to extrapolations made by study leaders Ayako Miyashita and Gary J. Gates of the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy at the University of California School of Law in Los Angeles.

If the donor policy was kept but changed — permitting blood donations after one year or five years of sexual abstinence — men who have sex with men (MSM) could donate around 300,000 pints a year, respectively, the study said. About 9.2 million Americans currently donate about 15.7 million pints of blood per year, according to the American Red Cross.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Food and Drug Administration are under pressure to change their decades-old policy of not permitting MSM to donate blood if they have had sex with a man since 1977.

The donor policy was implemented in the early 1980s after thousands of hemophiliacs and other transfusion patients began contracting and dying of AIDS from infected blood donations.

Engaging in anal sex continues to be a high-risk activity for contracting HIV, and sexually active gay men accounted for 63 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S., the federal government said this year.

Gay rights groups and blood banks say new testing methods can ensure that most infected donations are caught and discarded, and other countries have changed their blood donor policies to permit MSM to give blood after lengthy periods of sexual abstinence.

Although HIV infection via blood transfusion is now very rare — one case in 1.5 million transfusions in the U.S. — researchers note that increasing the number of gay male donors will lead to a “small, but not zero” increase in HIV-infected blood donations.

Hemophiliacs and other recipients of blood donations support changing the MSM policy but say any changes must be based on science — not politics — and must uphold the safety of the blood supply.

The gay blood donation issue is scheduled to be discussed Nov. 13 at a meeting of officials with the Department of Health and Human Services advisory panel on blood safety.

Previous studies have estimated only modest increases in additional blood donations would come from changing MSM donor policies since sexually active gay men would continue to be ineligible.

The new study from the Williams Institute suggested that if the gay donor ban was fully eliminated, 360,000 men could donate 615,300 pints a year.

If the policy was changed to permit men who have sex with men to donate if they hadn’t had sex with a man in the last 12 months, this would result in 185,800 men donating 317,000 pints, the study said. If a five-year, no-sex deferral was the rule, 172,000 men would contribute around 293,400 pints.

Citing an American Red Cross rule of thumb, the study said that each blood donation can be used in life-saving procedures on as many as three people.

Therefore, the authors claim in their study, potentially 1.8 million lives could be saved every year. About 2.5 million people die annually in the U.S. of all causes.*

* Due to an editor’s error, outdated information on the U.S. blood supply was included in the original story posted Monday. The head of the New York Blood Center was also incorrectly identified — Dr. Christopher Hillyer is now president and chief executive office of the center.

 

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