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Red Cross implements FDA policy, extending eligibility to bisexual and gay men

Posted by Sara Cooper | Aug 11, 2023 | 0 Comments

Earlier in May, the Food and Drug Administration have rolled out with their donor eligibility guidelines that American Red Cross has brought out into effect, allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood.

“The process eliminates questions that are based on gender and sexual orientation and allows us to welcome more gay and bisexual men as blood donors and keep blood supply safe,” said Dan Dowling with the American Red Cross of Northern New England.

All potential blood donors will be required to answer a collection of individual, risk-based questions to decide if they are allowed to give blood, no matter their gender or sexual orientation.  

"The Red Cross is committed to achieving an inclusive blood donation process that treats all potential donors with equality and respect, and ensures a safe, sufficient blood supply is readily available for patients in need," the organization said in a statement. "This historic change in approach to donor eligibility is significant progress, resulting in a blood donation process that is more inclusive than ever before. The Red Cross celebrates the FDA's elimination of blood donation policies based on sexual orientation."

The FDA has historically banned donations from the LGBTQ+ community during the 1980s HIV/AIDS crisis. Rules have been relaxed in the past years, but they were not lifted fully.

According to ABC News, “Medical groups and LGBTQ organizations have criticized the FDA's previous rule from 2015, which relaxed a complete ban on donations from gay and bisexual men, but asked men to abstain from sex for at least one year before donation.”

This policy had changed from abstaining of one year to three months back in April 2020, due to the decline of donations when the COVID-19 pandemic was in its beginning phase and soon to be increasing with cases.

"With the nation's blood supply at its lowest point in a decade, and the American Red Cross declaring its first-ever national blood crisis earlier this month, it is time for the Food and Drug Administration to do something the AMA and others have urged for years: remove its discriminatory ban that prevents many gay and bisexual men from becoming blood donors," said the American Medical Association in 2022.

The CDC reports that there are nearly 11 million blood donors, but also that the HIV epidemic has also spread to women, not just exclusively to bisexual and gay men.

"As a physician, I feel a sense of relief, this will likely lead to the increased supply and availability of a vital resource needed for life-saving and life-sustaining treatment," Dr. Darien Sutton, an emergency medical physician and ABC News contributor, said in May when the FDA announced the revised guidelines.

Other new updates you should know about regarding eligibility, provided by the American Red Cross:

  • If you have taken a drug to prevent an HIV infection, known as pre-exposure prophylaxis and post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP or PEP), you are asked to wait three months from last oral dose and two years from last injection to donate blood. The waiting period is required due to these drugs interfering with viral replication and thus possibly altering the detectability of diagnostic and screening tests for HIV, including extending the window period prior to detectable infection or a delay in producing antibodies.
  • The Red Cross worked for many years to change the deferral policy concerning men who have sex with men. This work included decades of data collection and assessment on the impact to transfusion safety, ongoing advocacy to eliminate donor questions based on sexual orientation, and our recent role as a leading contributor in the FDA-funded ADVANCE Study.
  • Through the ADVANCE Study, the Red Cross worked closely with LGBTQ+ centers and with our own internal LGBTQ+ Pride Group to promote the study and recruit eligible study participants. The LGBTQ+ community has long been an important part of our humanitarian mission, serving as employees, volunteers and leaders in responding to disasters, training individuals in first aid and CPR, and more to support communities across the country in times of need. There is more work to be done to make blood donation even more inclusive and we will continue to provide data to the FDA in support of further progress.

To learn more about donor eligibility, please visit: Blood Donation Eligibility Requirements | Red Cross Blood Services

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