Earlier this year, I published an article criticizing the FDA’s current policy with regard to blood donations from gay and bisexual men. Since 2015, the FDA has maintained that any man who has had sex with another man is deferred from donating blood for a period of twelve months since last sexual contact. This was a gracious improvement from the draconian lifetime deferral it had espoused since the 1980’s. Even at the reduced twelve months, this effectively bans most gay and bisexual men, even those who are at a substantially lower risk of contracting and transmitting HIV than many heterosexual men and women. Why the FDA maintains such a harsh policy in the face of increasing knowledge and understanding of HIV defies understanding.
However, the tide seems finally poised to change. Since the beginning of 2019 the FDA has been in the process of reexamining its policies related to so called “men who have sex with men (MSM)” and blood donation. In a report dated from March, the Blood Products Advisory Committee laid out a path for addressing and improving current policy. It discussed a number of crucial topics including the effectiveness of more lenient policies around the globe, the way modern detection and prevention methods can be implemented in the donation process, and ways that infections and infection risk can be monitored and assessed. In all, it represents a sober and reassuring clarity with regard to the FDA’s approach to LGB issues.
Furthermore, the American Red Cross, one of the largest sources of blood donations in the country, has recently supported efforts to lower the deferral period for MSM donors according to the New York Post. The tide does indeed seem to be changing. While the 2015 twelve month deferral policy currently remains in place, these recent movements provide a great deal of hope for change in the future.