For the first time since before the AIDS epidemic, the Food and Drug Administration has officially revoked its ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with other men (MSM). But there’s a catch. These men must not have had sex with another man for at least one year.
Yet, although I’m part of the affected group, I still can’t bring myself to see this as discrimination. If anything, it’s progress for the sake of health as well as LBGT rights.
This restriction could definitely be milder, but it is progressive nonetheless. In an interview with CNN, Dr. Peter Marks, Deputy Director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, explained how the one year deferral was one of many routes they could take.
“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,” said Marks.
People need to remember that this is much more of a public health issue than one of political correctness. The safety of the blood being used for transfusions is the FDA’s main priority.
Statistics revealed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2014 have shown MSM to consistently be the most substantial HIV-positive group. In fact, 1 in 5 gay or bisexual men aged 13-24 make up new HIV infections every year. Because of this, it makes sense that the most affected group should also be the most surveilled.
And while the lifetime ban established in 1983 was rather extreme, it was an arguably effective safety measure at the time. People weren’t exactly sure what the disease’s origins were — they just knew it was deadly, and it was most prevalent among gay and bisexual men.The only complaint I have at this point is that it took the U.S. too long to make this policy change when other countries had done it years ago. For example, New Zealand lifted its permanent ban in 2009, while the U.K. lifted it in 2011.
However, it’s obvious the FDA didn’t take this decision lightly. Extensive research was done before their decision was final. When Australia made the same change from a permanent ban to a one-year deferral in 2000, over 8 million blood samples were tested. Results showed there were no changes in the safety of its blood supply.
In 2014, a survey conducted by the FDA showed HIV prevalence among gay and bisexual male blood donors was 0.25 percent — lower than the overall prevalence in the U.S. when its ban on MSM was still in place, 0.38 percent. This means that straight people who donated blood were actually more at risk than gay and bisexual male blood donors, despite the prevalence of HIV in MSM groups overall.
I can understand the FDA’s point of view, but I don’t think they’ve considered the implications of their decision. While I’m all for health safety, I believe these restrictions can still be lessened — maybe even removed with the right policies.
David Ngo is a third-year English and public health policy double major. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org