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FDA upholds blood-donor policy

POSTED: June 28, 2007 5:02 a.m.
The Food and Drug Administration recently upheld its policy banning gay men from donating blood, despite complaints from national blood organizations that the rule is discriminatory and outdated.
More than a year after meeting with officials from the American Red Cross, American Association of Blood Banks and America’s Blood Centers to discuss amending the ban, the FDA elected to maintain the policy until scientific data proves changing it would not “present a significant and preventable risk to blood recipients.”
“Scientific evidence has not yet been provided to FDA that shows blood donated by MSM (men who have sex with men) or a subgroup of these potential donors, is as safe as blood from currently accepted donors,” the department said in a statement posted on its Web site.
The FDA initiated the ban in 1983 to prevent the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus, the disease that can lead to AIDS, during blood transfusions. At the time, little was known about HIV and fears were running high about how easily it could be spread and the reliability of screening methods.
Recognizing the gay male population was being hit the hardest by the new disease, officials decided to bar any male who said he had sex with another man, even once since 1977, from donating blood.
But with the existence of new testing procedures that can detect HIV-positive donors in 10 to 21 days of infection, three of the nation’s largest blood suppliers say the ban is no longer necessary and discriminates against gays who would be healthy donors. The ARC, AABB and ABC recommended the FDA replace the ban with a one-year deferral after male-to-male sexual contact, but the department refused the suggestion.
In a statement released, FDA officials said the ban is based on “the documented increased risk of certain transfusion transmissible infections ... associated with male-to-male sex and is not based on any judgment concerning the donor’s sexual orientation.”
Intravenous drug abusers, people who have received transplants of animal tissue or organs, people who have recently been in certain countries and people who have engaged in sex for money or drugs are also currently barred from donating blood.
 

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