Locally, blood collector Vitalant says that in the San Francisco Bay Area, there has been an 11% drop in its active donor base in the past 12 months compared to the previous year.
But despite the need, many gay and bisexual men still cannot donate blood due to an FDA restriction.
In 1983, during the AIDS epidemic, the FDA adopted a policy that prevented men who have sex with men from donating blood.
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Since then, the policy has changed somewhat for the first time in 2015, allowing men who have sex with men to donate blood if they haven’t had sex with another man for 12 months. Most recently, the policy was revised in April 2020.
“Current regulations state that any gay or bisexual man or man who has sex with men, who has been sexually active and has had sex in the past three months, is not eligible to donate blood,” said Dr Brian Custer, vice president of research. and science programs at the Vitalent Research Institute.
Even more change is called for.
The American Red Cross in a statement said in part:
“The American Red Cross seeks to create an inclusive environment that embraces diversity for all who engage in our lifesaving mission. As such, the Red Cross believes that eligibility to donate blood should not be determined by methods based on sexual orientation and is committed to working with partners to achieve this goal.
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The FDA also sent out a statement addressing the current policy saying, in part, “Developing the scientific information needed to further modify blood donor policies takes time and effort. The FDA has made progress in this regard and has been actively engaged in re-examining the issue of the exclusion of blood donors for men who have sex with men (MSM), taking into account all the current scientific information, and we are considering the possibility of pursuing alternative strategies that maintain blood safety. “
They point to a pilot program called the Advanced Study (Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility).
The Red Cross, Vitalant and OneBlood are participating.
It is underway in parts of the country, including San Francisco and Oakland.
It aims to lead to a significant change in current FDA policy.
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The goal of the study is to try to collect data that will go to the FDA in the hopes that we can move from the current three-month postponement for men who have sex with men to a individual risk-based approach so that it “It will no longer be a widespread carry-over,” said lead researcher Dr. Custer, “Instead, each individual would be assessed for their own eligibility to donate blood.”
The study being done here in the Bay Area needs more participants. Until July 2022, they enroll men aged 18 to 39.
They will ask questions during a series of visits and take a blood sample.
While there is little that many gay and bisexual men can do to alleviate the blood shortage, Dr Custer says participating in the study could help in the future.
“If you’re not eligible to donate, but want to see things like the current policy, change as it relates to men, or have sex with men,” he said, “ So come and discover the ADVANCE study, take part in it. “
To learn more about the study and to participate, click here.
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