ROCKVILLE, Md. (WUSA9)-- Since 1983, the Food and Drug Administration has excluded any men who have sex with men (gay or bisexual) from being blood donors because of a higher risk of HIV infection. Today, a Health and Human Services committee took testimony on whether this ban is still appropriate, or possibly discriminatory.
Robert Tollefson spoke representing "Banned4Life", an organization that has submitted a petition to lift the ban. Tollefson says, "They need to look at making the screening process more fair."
Tollefson is a local healthcare worker who would like to be a regular blood donor. He is also a gay man, and speaking to the HHS Blood & Tissue Donation Safety meeting in Rockville today about why his blood faces a lifetime ban, regardless of whether he engages in risky behavior.
Tollefson says, "A woman can go in and go through the screening process. If she says she never had sex with a gay man, they never ask her how many sex partners she's had. She can have multiple sex partners in the course of a year and still be eligible to donate, whereas a gay man who has never had sex in the last five years is immediately disqualified."
The policy was first formulated in 1983 when the risk of HIV infection from blood transfusions was first recognized. The FDA has kept it in place because, among other reasons, the agency says HIV rates have continued to rise in men who have sex with men, while going down or staying steady in other populations.
And while donated blood is screened for HIV, Hepatitis B and other infections- there is a minute risk that HIV won't be picked up during a "window-period" early in the infection when antibodies have not formed.
"We think the policy definitely needs to be changed," says Brian Moulton of the Human Rights Campaign; they support updated questionnaires on sexual behavior as a better barometer for weeding out risky donors than a blanket ban on gay and bisexual men. But its up to this committee to help the FDA decide if there's enough science to back a policy change and allow more people to donate safely.
"If the data indicate that a change is possible while protecting the blood supply, we will consider a chang to the policy," HHS said in a statement.