Today, the HHS Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability is kicking off a two-day meeting to reconsider the FDA ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men (MSM). The current policy has been in place since 1985 when no HIV testing was available and little was known about HIV/AIDS. Since then, while many policies towards blood donations have changed, and HIV testing has significantly advanced to the point where a permanent ban no longer makes sense, the ban still remains in place. The ban is also discriminatory in that it unfairly targets gay and bisexual men because it does not distinguish between high-risk and low-risk MSM, banning potential MSM donors who are HIV-negative and consistently practice safe sex or are in long-term monogamous relationships, while others with a significantly higher risk of HIV infection are subject to less restrictive deferrals or none at all. The ban also contributes to a dangerously and chronically low blood supply in a country in which approximately just 5% of all eligible donors give.
The NYC and DC City Councils have recently passed resolutions by votes of 42-1 and 13-0, respectively, urging a revision of the ban. Sen. Kerry and 17 other Democratic Senators urged the same in a letter to the FDA. Today, we are asking that you join their voices in calling for a more sensible policy.
Dr. Jerry Holmberg is the Executive Secretary of the Advisory Committee, and is tasked with accepting formal public comments from both organizations and individuals. He has made his e-mail available for this purpose. Please take a minute to e-mail Dr. Holmberg via email@example.com and urge him and the committee to revise the ban on blood donations from MSM.
Similar to our "Release your anger!" action aimed at the FDIC on a financial penalty for banks taking excessive risks, there is an open public comment period in which the committee considers outside opinions- and an opportunity for supporters of a sensible policy to make a dent. In writing the note, you can use the facts we have listed below, a form letter we've put together at the bottom of this list post that summarizes the rationale for ending the ban, a personal note- or all of the above! My close friend was just diagnosed with a very serious type of leukemia. She has received half a dozen whole blood transfusions and several platelets transfusions. I am a healthy, HIV-negative, type O negative individual who has previously donated and who meets all additional critera for donating. I want to give, but this policy senselessly won't let me. I just e-mailed Dr. Holmberg with that message and other sound reasons.
Please take a minute to do the same, and drop Dr. Holmberg and the Committee an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Urge a revision of the policy that incorporates sound medical, scientific, and non-discriminatory guidelines.
The additional reasons you can cite are below.
Newer tests have shortened the window period in which HIV is undetectable to between 9 and 11 days. A permanent, lifetime ban is outdated and no longer makes sense.
The U.S. blood supply is frequently at critically low levels. Less than 5% of all eligible donors give, while donation recipients include mothers delivering babies, trauma victims, cancer patients, transplant patients and others. The respected Williams Institute estimates that lifting the ban would result in an estimated 130,150 additional donors who are likely to donate 219,000 additional pints of blood each year, while shortening deferral to one year would result in 53,269 additional men who are likely to donate 89,716 pints each year.
The ban is a form of discrimination by unfairly targeting men who have sex with men, or effectively the gay and bisexual community. A permanent, blanket ban is instituted on any male who has had sex with another male even once since 1977 and without regard for his partner's HIV status nor for frequency, safe sex practices, or duration since. Yet if one has sex with an opposite-sex partner who is knowingly HIV-positive, he or she can give again in a year. This is discrimination and it is wrong.
Other countries like Australia, Japan, Sweden and Russia have either revised or completely lifted the deferral period, while Italy, Spain and France screen donors based on risk rather than a blanket ban on a community.
The American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers, American Association of Blood Banks, American Medical Association, and a coalition of nearly fifty other organizations all support a revision of the ban.
You can use these reasons in combination with your own personal ones, or the form letter in the extended entry. Please submit a public comment via email@example.com, and urge that the ban be revised to improve the nation's health, meet sound scientific practices, and eliminate discrimination. Thanks for helping improve the nation's health and eliminating another form of discrimination.
Here is a letter summarizing the scientific and social reasons for revising the ban for your convenience. Feel free to copy and paste into an e-mail:
Jerry A. Holmberg, PhD
Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability
Office of Public Health and Science
Department of Health and Human Services
1101 Wooton Parkway, Suite 250
Rockville, MD 20852
June 10, 2010
Dear Dr. Holmberg,
I am pleased that the Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability (ACBSA) is planning to review the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) decades-long ban on blood donation by any man who has had sex with another man since 1977. I strongly urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to review its policy prohibiting gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood.
The FDA's current blood donor eligibility policies are largely inconsistent, imposing significantly less restrictive deferrals to heterosexual men and women who engage in high-risk sexual behavior, yet banning gay and bisexual men who are HIV-negative, consistently practice safe sex, or are in monogamous, long-term relationships. This policy reinforces inaccurate stereotypes about gay men and HIV, and results in a significant loss of healthy blood donors.
The advent of new HIV testing technologies, which can detect HIV directly and has a window period of only 9-11 days after infection, has provided scientific and technological reasons to reconsider the policy. In the face of chronic blood shortages in the nation's blood supply, the unnecessary exclusion of large numbers of HIV-negative blood donors may harm patients in need of blood transfusions.
I join a growing consensus of voices who have called for reform of the FDA's donor eligibility policy. Many public health experts, the American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks, America's Blood Centers, and others have supported reforming the policy. Additionally, 18 U.S. Senators, as well as U.S. Representatives, have recently sent letters to the FDA calling for the long-standing policy's review and modification.
It is both timely and necessary that an exhaustive review of alternative policies is conducted. I encourage Health and Human Services (HHS) and the FDA to act quickly to address our mutual concern for expanding the blood donor pool and ensuring the safety and adequacy of our nation's blood supply.