In the same year that US researchers discovered the existence of HIV, a blood ban was introduced in the States that prohibited gay men from donating blood. 1983 was that year, over thirty years ago, and the blood ban stayed in place until yesterday, 21 December, 2015.
Now the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) have announced that a policy has been put in place whereby gay men can donate blood, but only if they have abstained from sex with another man for 12 months. The recommendation was made over a year ago by advisors to the Department of Health & Human Services, and now the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability have voted 16-2 to implement the recommendation.
Because there was little known about HIV back then, the ban appeared to be justified. However, now almost all blood has to tested for HIV and others illnesses before being used, and there is a nucleic acid test which can diagnose HIV within weeks of being exposed to the virus.
In the journal, Transfusion, Vol. 50, Issue 12, an Australian team, led by Clive R. Seed, have found that there is no significant increased risk of transfusion-transmitted HIV subsequent to a 12-month deferral period for MSM.
“We found no evidence that the implementation of the 12-month deferral for male-to-male sex resulted in an increased recipient risk for HIV in Australia. The risk of noncompliance to the revised deferral rather than its duration appears to be the most important modifier of overall risk”.
Many medical organisations in the US had put pressure on the FDA to change their blood donation policy for gay and bi men. These included the American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centres, the American Medical Association, and the American Association of Blood Banks.
Advocates argue that the year’s ban is still discriminatory, to, for instance, gay men who are in a monogamous relationship, have no high risk behaviour, and after testing have shown no evidence of HIV.