- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2000

An advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration yesterday narrowly rejected a proposal that would have allowed blood donations by homosexual males who said they had not had sex with other men for at least five years.

Members of the committee defeated the proposal by a vote of 7-6. Those who voted against the measure said they need more evidence to determine whether the change would increase the AIDS risk to users of the nation's blood supply.

The vote by the Blood Products Advisory Committee recommends leaving in place a policy that has been in effect since 1985 that prohibits homosexual and bisexual males who have had homosexual sex since 1977 from giving blood. The date, 1977, is generally considered the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.

"The committee was trying to resolve the perception of some who might think this policy looks discriminatory, while keeping the safety of the blood supply," said the panel's chairman, Dr. F. Blaine Hollinger, a professor of medicine, virology and epidemiology at Baylor College of Medicine, who voted in support of easing the current policy.

It was the FDA that asked the blood products panel if it should change the blood-donation rule to ban only men who have had sex with another man within the past five years.

The FDA is not bound by its advisers' decisions but typically follows them. It is not certain how long it will take for the FDA to make a final decision, but it is likely to be at least several months.

Homosexual males are a high-risk group for infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But they feel the present blood donor policy discriminates against them, since it bars them from donating blood if they have had any homosexual contact in the past 23 years. They point out that some other heterosexual high-risk groups, such as those who have had sex with female prostitutes, are allowed to donate blood one year later.

Dr. Hollinger, in an interview after the meeting, noted that intravenous drug users are also a "high-risk group" for HIV infection and they, too, are permanently barred from donating blood.

"This policy does not look at any one group. It looks at behavior," he said.

Dr. Andrew Dayton, a supervisory medical officer for the FDA's Division of Emerging and Transfusion-Related Diseases, estimated the policy would have resulted in about 62,300 additional homosexual men seeking to donate blood. From them, 1.7 HIV-infected units of blood might get into the blood supply annually, he said.

Scientists on the advisory committee weren't the only ones divided on whether the current blood donor deferral policy should be relaxed. So were blood banks.

"Until data are available to show that changing the MSM [male having sex with male] deferral criterion will not elevate risk to the nation's blood supply, we cannot support this change," said Dr. Rebecca Haley, interim chief medical officer for the American Red Cross, the nation's largest supplier of blood components.

However, the American Association of Blood Banks which includes the Red Cross among its members and another industry group called America's Blood Centers urged the advisory committee to recommend that homosexual males be allowed to donate blood if they have not had same-sex relations for a year.

In her statement to the panel, Dr. Haley cited estimates by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the additional 62,300 previously deferred donors would contribute "about 1,200 units of HIV-positive blood" to the system for testing each year. She said that figure is based on a "CDC-estimated HIV prevalence of 2 percent in this population."

Dr. Dayton said that, overall, the prevalence of HIV infection among U.S. homosexuals is 8 percent.

"Most already know their status," he said, but added that 2 percent might not and "so might be expected to donate blood."

Because of sensitive screening tests in routine use at blood banks, evidence of HIV infection can now be detected 16 days after infection. And a new nucleic acid test, still awaiting licensing but in use at Red Cross centers on an experimental basis, would reduce that window to eight to 12 days.

But Dr. Dayton said he was concerned by data he received from the New York state health department that indicated higher-than-expected "inappropriate releases" of donated blood by some New York hospitals.

Dr. Hollinger said he "got the impression the committee would be in favor of a change [to allow more homosexuals to donate blood], but I think they need more information."

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide