On Monday, deciding that refraining from alienating those in the gay community was more important than the health of the public at large, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it would reverse the decades-old restrictions preventing men who have sex with men from donating blood. The new rules stipulate that men who have had sex with men are banned from giving blood for one year, but men who haven’t had sex with men for over a year are free to donate blood.
How do blood donor centers know if homosexual men have had sex with men in the last year? By asking the men themselves, of course, and trusting they will tell the truth.
The journal JAMA Pediatrics reported that one study found young men between the ages of 13 and 29 who are gay or bisexual account for more than 25 percent of new HIV infections in the United States each year. Numerous studies conducted over the years indicate that gay men have sex with an astonishing number of partners in their lifetimes. See here, here, and here.
The FDA’s Acting Commissioner, Stephen Ostroff, M.D., blustered, “The FDA’s responsibility is to maintain a high level of blood product safety for people whose lives depend on it. We have taken great care to ensure this policy revision is backed by sound science and continues to protect our blood supply.”
Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, added, “In reviewing our policies to help reduce the risk of HIV transmission through blood products, we rigorously examined several alternative options, including individual risk assessment. Ultimately, the 12-month deferral window is supported by the best available scientific evidence, at this point in time, relevant to the U.S. population. We will continue to actively conduct research in this area and further revise our policies as new data emerge.”
Gay advocacy groups, unsatisfied with the remaining twelve-month restriction, voiced their disapproval. Kelsey Louie, the chief executive officer of GMHC, the advocacy group formerly known as Gay Men’s Health Crisis, said the restriction “ignores the modern science of H.I.V.-testing technology while perpetuating the stereotype that all gay and bisexual men are inherently dangerous.”
According to the New York Times, “tests can tell whether donated blood contains the virus in as little as nine days after the donor has been infected.” Marks admitted that the newest blood tests are “highly accurate but not perfect” because of the nine-day window, adding, “That is why the elimination of all deferrals is not feasible at this time.”
The FDA claims that it has reduced the HIV transmission rates from blood transfusion from 1 in 2,500 to 1 in 1.47 million.