The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has officially backed down from banning gay men who want to become blood donors. The group will now allow men who have had sex with another man–what it labels MSM–to give blood, but with one major catch. Any man who’s had sex with another man within the last 12 months isn’t eligible.
The policy change is the first in over 32 years and came after the FDA compared current scientific studies against its policies regarding HIV transmission from blood products, the administration said. Other nations, including the UK and Australia, also have 12-month blood donation deferrals for gay men.
“These updated recommendations better align the deferral period for MSM with the deferral period for other men and women at increased risk for HIV infection,” the FDA said in its release. “Such as those who had a recent blood transfusion or those who have been accidentally exposed to the blood of another individual.”
The FDA said it would continue to review new scientific evidence as it becomes available and will “further revise our policies as new data emerge,” said Peter Marks, the deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.
The blood donation ban for gay men was adopted in 1983 during the early part of the AIDS crisis as a way to prevent unintended spread of the disease through blood transfusions. HIV transmission rates from blood transfusion have dropped over the years, falling to 1 in 1.47 million from 1 in 2,500 in 1985.
However, many gay-rights advocates and medical professionals have spoken out against the outright ban, saying it was discriminatory and encouraged stigmas against gay men. The National Gay Blood Drive, which has worked to change FDA policies on the issue, said it was pleased to see forward movement but felt “the revised policy was still discriminatory,” according to a statement on its website. The group wants the FDA blood donation deferrals to be based upon individual risk assessment, which would require a doctor or other specialist declare a person eligible for blood donation based on his or her individual at-risk behaviors regardless of sexual orientation. Nations like Italy and Spain use this approach.
The FDA “rigorously examined several alternative options, including individual risk assessment,” said Marks. “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.”