Gay and bisexual men are now permitted to donate blood one year after their last sexual contact with a man, the federal government said Monday in its final recommendations to the blood-product industry.
The one-year deferral policy — which mirrors several countries’ policies on men who have sex with men (MSM) — was decided by health professionals who considered blood safety issues as part of their plan to lift a blanket ban on MSM blood donations that was put into place in 1985, the Food and Drug Administration said in a 27-page guidance document.
“We have taken great care to ensure this policy revision is backed by sound science and continues to protect our blood supply,” Dr. Stephen Ostroff, FDA acting commissioner, said Monday.
Gay rights groups quickly criticized the policy as discriminatory and having no actual effect.
“In practice, the new policy is still a continuation of the lifetime ban” and perpetuates “the stereotype that all gay and bisexual men are inherently dangerous,” said the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.
The New York-based group promised to push for a blood donor policy that has no “blanket bans” but instead takes into account people’s “marital status and safe-sex practices” and their self-reported behavior.
The Gay Men’s Health Crisis and other groups support the #BloodEquality campaign, which has a poster depicting a man with the slogan “My blood is Type A, not Type Gay.”
Whitman-Walker Health, which serves sexual minority populations in the District, also expressed disappointment with the FDA, saying a deferral period of 30 days is ample, given modern HIV testing that can detect the virus that causes AIDS within 10 days of exposure.
Moreover, Whitman-Walker said, the FDA didn’t remove the permanent blood donation deferrals for people who ever engaged in sex work or injected illicit drugs.
“The FDA must do better than this slow chipping-away at antiquated bans,” said Dan Bruner, senior director of policy at Whitman-Walker Health.
The FDA guidance, however, addressed — and rejected — these scenarios.
Self-reports of monogamy are not reliable given relatively high rates of infidelity, the agency said. Testing blood without screening out donors could cause the now-rare blood transmission rate of HIV to rise “fourfold.”
MSM is a high-risk population for HIV. The risk of HIV infection for people in this group is “more than 20-fold higher than that of men who have sex with multiple female partners and women who have sex with multiple male partners,” the agency said.
The FDA noted that U.S. manufacturers of blood and blood components intended for use in other countries “may not be able to implement the FDA’s recommended 12 month donor deferral policy for MSM.” These manufacturers “may maintain longer deferral policies” to comply with “global regulatory requirements on deferral policies.”
A requested comment from the National Hemophilia Foundation was not immediately available Monday, but in December 2014, when the FDA announced its thinking on the MSM policy change, the foundation said the proposed policy reflected “a balance of respecting donors and protecting patients.”
Dr. Andrew W. Gurman, president-elect of the American Medical Association, commended the FDA, saying its final guidance “takes important steps to improve the balance among ensuring health equity, engaging with high-risk populations and protecting the safety of the national blood supply.”
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Hungary, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom have one-year deferrals for MSM. Canada requires a man’s last sexual contact with a man to be at least five years.
Italy, Mexico and South Africa are among the few countries that screen people on details of their sexual behavior, such as condom use, or require celibacy from MSM of less than a year.