Despite recommendations, it is looking unlikely that the Food and Drug Administration will begin allowing men who have sex with men (MSM) to donate blood in the near future.
The agency met with a panel of experts to discuss the issue, but according to AFP.com, even after “two days of heated deliberations,” no consensus was reached on whether the current policy, which bans MSM from donating blood for life, should be amended.
A spokesperson for the FDA, Jennifer Rodriguez, told AFP, “The meeting provided valuable information and perspectives that will help inform the FDA’s deliberations. The FDA’s primary concern as we continue to review our blood donation policies will be assuring the continued safety of blood and blood products for the patients who receive these products.”
The agency is not obligated to follow advice given by such panels, but AFP said it “typically does.” The FDA did not disclose when it intends to make its decision following the meeting.
In the United States, MSM have been banned from donating blood since 1983, when it was known that HIV is transmitted via bodily fluids but was otherwise poorly understood. In nearly all of the countries that follow FDA guidelines, any man that has had sex with another man even once since 1977 is banned from donating blood for life.
At the time the policy was implemented, reliable tests for detecting HIV were still nonexistent, and because MSM were most likely to be infected, the lifetime ban made sense. However, over thirty years later, science has made incredible progress against HIV and AIDS, especially in regards to detection. Because FDA policy has not kept up with the times, countless donations of badly needed blood, tissue, and organs have been rejected.
The Guardian reported in November that the Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Blood & Tissue Safety & Availability voted overwhelmingly in favor of allowing MSM to donate blood if they have not been sexually active for twelve months. A number of other countries, including the UK, Canada and Australia, have similar rules requiring MSM to have been celibate for the last one to five years in order to donate blood.
According to a September 2014 press release by the Williams Institute, “If the current FDA blood ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) were completely lifted, it is estimated that an additional 360,600 men would likely donate 615,300 additional pints of blood each year.”
Even if the policy were only amended to allow donations from “MSM who have not had sexual contact with another man in the past twelve months…the report estimates that 185,800 additional men are likely to donate 317,000 additional pints of blood each year.” An amendment allowing blood donations from “MSM who have not had sexual contact with another man in the past five years” could increase the US blood supply by “an additional 293,400 blood donations.”
Williams Institute scholar Ayako Miyashita, the author of the study “UPDATE: Effects of Lifting Blood Donation Bans on Men Who Have Sex with Men,” is quoted in the press release as saying, “The American Red Cross suggests that each blood donation has the potential to be used in life-saving procedures on three individuals. Our estimates suggest that lifting the blood donation ban among MSM could be used to help save the lives of more than 1.8 million people.”