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The Red Cross lifts its blood donor restrictions for men who have sex with men

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The American Red Cross has fully dropped its blood donor ban on men who’ve had sex with men (MSM) and, starting today, bases eligibility on individual risk factors, per updated FDA guidance. The nonprofit now asks blood donor hopefuls “the same eligibility questions regardless of gender or sexual orientation.”

While the Red Cross has removed limits specific to men who have sex with men, it will require a three-month waiting period for anyone “to donate blood from last anal sex contact.” The Red Cross will also continue to refuse donations from people who are HIV-positive, even if their viral load is undetectable. Look at the nonprofit’s full FAQ page for other disqualifying factors.

The FDA’s new policy was announced earlier this year, and though it’s certainly a long overdue step forward, many gay men will still bear a burden. Many could be excluded, “even those who wear condoms or regularly test for sexually transmitted infections,” Benjamin Mazer wrote in The Atlantic back in February.

The Red Cross said in a statement that it has, “for many years,” advocated for a more inclusive blood donor policy to make a “safe, sufficient blood supply … readily available for patients in need.”

Deferring potential donors based on sexuality has seemed increasingly unreasonable given better HIV infection testing — as well as the fact that it’s not an exclusively male-to-male-transmitting virus

The discriminatory practice to turn away donors based on their sexual preference was originally adopted to hamper the spread of HIV / AIDS, despite sexuality being only one risk factor for HIV. Deferring potential donors based on sexuality has seemed increasingly unreasonable, wrote former American Medical Association president Gerald E. Harmon last year, given better HIV infection testing — as well as the fact that it’s not an exclusively male-to-male-transmitting virus.

In the mid-1980s, the FDA put forth new guidance indefinitely barring any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 from donating blood. At the tail end of 2014, the FDA announced it would change its guidance from lifetime bans on MSM donors to requiring that men who have sex with men abstain from doing so for a year before donating, and in 2020, the administration dropped the timetable to 90 days. Earlier this year, it dropped that specific restriction (or expanded it to include everyone, depending on how you look at it) and allowed the United States to grow closer to joining a growing list of countries that allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood without restrictions.

That change in policy is what led to the Red Cross’ own change. However, you’ll still want to confirm with your local blood donation center before stopping by to donate, as not all of them are associated with the Red Cross. Given we’re currently dealing with a blood shortage, it never hurts to stop and give a little.

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