The US Government on Monday overturned its 30-year ban on blood donations by gay men, saying they can now donate 12 months after their last sexual contact with another man.
Its decision to reverse the policy was based on an examination of the latest science which shows that an indefinite ban is not necessary to prevent the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said.
“Ultimately, the 12-month deferral window is supported by the best available scientific evidence, at this point in time, relevant to the US population,” FDA biologics division deputy director Dr Peter Marks said in a statement.
The move brings the US into line with countries such as Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, which also have 12-month deferral periods.
Gay-rights advocates said the policy remains discriminatory.
“It is ridiculous and counter to the public health that a married gay man in a monogamous relationship can’t give blood, but a promiscuous straight man who has had hundreds of opposite sex partners in the last year can,” Democratic Congressman and Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus co-chair Jared Polis said.
The FDA said it has worked with other government agencies and considered input from outside advisory bodies and has “carefully examined the most recent available scientific evidence to support the current policy revision.”
During Australia’s switch from an indefinite blood donor deferral policy on gay men, essentially a ban, to a 12-month deferral, studies evaluating more than 8 million units of donated blood were performed using a national blood surveillance system, the FDA said.
“These published studies document no change in risk to the blood supply with use of the 12-month deferral,” the agency said. “Similar data are not available for shorter deferral intervals.”
People with hemophilia and related blood clotting disorders would continue to be banned from donating blood due to potential harm they could suffer from large needles, the agency said.
Previously they were banned due to an increased risk of HIV transmission.
It has put in place a safety monitoring system for the blood supply which it expects to provide “critical information” to help inform future FDA blood donor policies, the agency said, adding that its policies have helped reduce HIV transmission rates from blood transfusions in the US from 1 in 2,500 to 1 in 1.47 million.
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