A Southland-based group launched a statewide campaign on Tuesday urging federal officials to end a lifetime ban on blood donations from men who had sex with other men.
The Food and Drug Administration established the ban in 1983, just a year after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first issued a definition of AIDS. It prohibits blood donations by any man who has had sex with another man since 1977.
“The FDA blood ban is discrimination, pure and simple,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of West Hollywood-based Equality California. “FDA blood donor eligibility policies should be based on modern scientific research and findings rather than archaic assumptions and fears.”
Organizers say the ability to test for HIV has improved dramatically in the 31 years since the policy was adopted during a time of intense fear about transmission of the virus. The FDA says testing is highly accurate, but not 100 percent reliable.
The agency views its primary responsibility as ensuring patient safety.
Its policy is based on “the documented increased risk of certain transfusion transmissible infections, such as HIV, associated with male-to-male sex,” according to the FDA website, and “is not based on any judgment concerning the donor’s sexual orientation.”
Zbur said ending the ban was a priority for Equality California, a statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization. The group’s campaign, dubbed “Every Drop Counts,” urges supporters to write to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.
The American Red Cross and the American Medical Association have also called for a reevaluation of the FDA policy. The Williams Institute, a think tank based at the UCLA School of Law, estimates that an additional 130,150 men would likely donate 219,200 pints of blood annually if the ban were lifted.
Critics say that the push to change policy is rooted in politics rather than a shortage of donated blood.
In a 2013 policy advisory, the Family Research Council accused “liberal activists” of thinking “that Americans should ignore the science and risk exposing people to disease just to make a political point.”
An advisory group from the Department of Health and Human Services last reviewed the policy in 2010 and concluded it was “suboptimal,” but chose to keep it in place pending additional research.
The FDA’s Blood Products Advisory Committee is meeting this year to examine the issue. To date, it says it has been unable to develop donor screening questions about safe sex practices that will reliably identify a subset of men who have had sex with men who are not at higher risk of HIV infection than the general population.
Others banned from donating blood include intravenous drug users, recipients of animal organ transplants, those who have recently traveled to or lived in certain countries with a high incidence of malaria and those who have engaged in sex for money or drugs.