COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Food and Drug Administration is considering easing the restrictions on blood donation guidelines for gay and bisexual men.
“This is not creating a risk for the blood supply, this is only making the blood supply stronger for those who need it,” said Rhea Debussy, the director of external affairs for Equitas Health. That’s the message from healthcare advocates who assure that the proposed changes are designed to maintain a safe and adequate local blood supply.
“A huge part of it is making sure that policies that are developed by the FDA are policies that are informed by science, not by stigma,” Debussy said. The FDA has restricted blood donations from gay and bisexual men since the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s.
Under current rules, gay and bisexual men are barred from donating blood if they’ve had sex with another man in the past three months. But with advocates, for decades, calling the practice discriminatory, that guidance could soon change.
“When you talk about higher associated risk factors with HIV, that is really included in anybody, whether you be gay, straight, or bisexual,” said Dr. Joseph Gastaldo from OhioHealth.
With the new proposal, eligibility would change from time-based deferrals to individual, risk-based assessments, meaning anyone — regardless of gender or sexual orientation — would be eligible to donate blood provided they haven’t engaged in certain sexual behaviors in the previous three months.
“It’s very discriminatory and stigmatizing to exclude gay or bisexual men in donating blood, knowing that the same type of risk factors and HIV infection can occur outside of the gay and bisexual men community,” Gastaldo said.
For years, medical providers have also called on the FDA to lift the restrictions that they said have contributed to critical blood shortages nationwide. They say a change in policy is long overdue.
“There are many within the gay and bisexual men community who would very easily roll up their sleeves and donate blood,” Gastaldo said.
But with the proposal maintaining restrictions on individuals taking HIV prevention medications like PrEP, advocates said there is still work to be done.
“A much-improved policy would be recognizing that PrEP is highly effective at reducing the likelihood of a new HIV infection and removing that categorical ban of PrEP users from being able to donate blood,” Debussy said.
The FDA is not expected to reach a final decision until after a 60-day public comment period. An FDA official said they plan to work with blood collectors during the comment period to help them make any necessary changes to implement the new rules.