After a 30-year debate, the FDA has recommended a lift on the ban of blood donations from the homosexual community. For medical professionals, including medical assistants and lab technicians, this change will help provide additional treatment to their patients.
Journey to change
Originally proposed last December, the FDA’s new order specifically affects blood donations from gay and bisexual men. The current guidance, set in September 1985, allowed centers to deny gay or bisexual male donors based on the outbreak of AIDS at the time, plus the high risk of HIV and other diseases, including hepatitis B and C, in the gay population.1 It stated that any male who had sex with another male since 1977 was at risk for the spread of the disease, and therefore wouldn’t be able to give blood. This regulation infuriated the both gay community and gay rights groups, which found it nearly impossible for the FDA to enforce.1
The new order, proposed May 2015, will allow homosexual and bisexual men to donate blood, as long as they’ve abstained from sex for an entire year. The FDA also noted that “No transmissions of HIV, hepatitis B virus, or hepatitis C virus have been documented through U.S.-licensed plasma derived products in the past two decades.2”
With backing from the American Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers, both of which collect donations, the FDA’s new order will eliminate the lifetime ban on blood donations from gay or bisexual men. This comes on the heels of 2008 data from the CDC that shows the risk of obtaining HIV from blood transfusions is one in 1.5 million.1 Today, smart blood tests can detect HIV and other viruses in donations. These tests can’t yet screen for recent infections, however, hence the FDA’s requirement of one year of abstinence.2
Along with the blood screening now available at donation centers, the FDA recommends that donors be provided with educative materials before each donation explaining the risks associated with contaminated blood and blood products. With this information at hand, the FDA hopes that those at risk will self-defer, before a screening test would prove their inability to donate.2
This new order also allows members of the transgender community to choose how to identify their sex.1
Criticism of the new guidance
Although the Human Rights Campaign sees this new recommendation as a step in the right direction, it is still skeptical. “This policy prevents men from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation rather than actual risk to the blood supply. It simply cannot be justified in light of current scientific research and updated blood screening technology” said David Stacy, government affairs director for the HRC.3
The FDA rebutted by saying this new guidance is not a regulation – that it reflects its current thinking on the subject and should only be seen as a recommendation.1 It added that people who have had a recent infusion should not donate and that women who have had sex with a gay or bisexual man in the last year should wait a year before donating.2
Although the FDA’s newest recommendation can be seen as both a blessing and a curse, it will grant health care experts, including certified medical assistants, access to healthy blood for patient care. By lifting an outdated ban on gay and bisexual blood donation, the FDA is hoping to improve the quality of life for people who need additional blood and blood products to survive.
1“As promised, FDA to lift ban on gay blood donation” Maggie Fox, NBC News, May 12, 2015. http://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/promised-fda-lift-ban-gay-blood-donation-n357816.
2“Revised Recommendations for Reducing the Risk of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission by Blood and Blood Products” FDA, May 2015. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/BiologicsBloodVaccines/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/Guidances/Blood/UCM446580.pdf?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.
3“FDA blood donation ban change unacceptable” Stephen Peters, Human Rights Campaign, May 12, 2015. http://www.hrc.org/blog/entry/fda-blood-donation-ban-change-still-unacceptable?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss-feed&hootPostID=5727e9be072d1d21d1f4bd9ca071e96f.