A senior North Carolina health official, joined by public health officials from eight other states and the District of Columbia, is asking the Food and Drug Administration to cancel a three-month waiting period for gay men who have sex to donate blood.
On Thursday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Cody Kinsley sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Robert Calif with a request to repeal the policy of deferment of blood donors, which does not allow men who have had sex with another man in the last 90 days to donate blood. In addition to Kinsley and NC Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, the letter was signed by health officials from California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon and Washington, DC.
Until a few years ago, gays and bisexual men were subject to a life ban on blood donation, which was introduced in 1983, at the beginning of the HIV / AIDS epidemic. In December 2015, the FDA lifted the ban, replacing it with politics allows gay and bisexual men to donate blood, but only if they have not been sexually active for 12 months. The postponement period was reduced to 90 days in April 2020shortly after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, when there was a significant drop in blood supply across the country.
In the nearly 40 years since the ban was imposed, “there have been incredible advances in both the development of highly sensitive HIV diagnostic platforms and in our scientific understanding of HIV transmission,” Kinsley wrote in the letter.
All blood donations must now be tested for HIV nucleic acid studywho can detect the virus within two weeks of infection, Kinsley writes. This means that the risk of HIV-infected blood entering the bloodstream is “negligibly small”.
A policy that discriminates against and promotes stigma
Kinsley, who is the first gay secretary to serve in North Carolina history, said FDA policy was personal to him.
“Personally, I was incredibly disappointed that I could not join my colleagues and loved ones in donating blood, seeing how much the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the country’s blood shortage, risking patient care and safety,” Kinsley wrote on Twitter. . .
Kinsey said there is no solid evidence that the 90-day grace period is effective in protecting the blood supply, meaning the FDA has “no clinical reason” to support “discriminatory” policies.
“Continuing this policy only serves to further stigmatize an already marginalized demographic and unnecessarily limits the number of donors eligible in times of emergency in the United States,” Kinsley wrote.
Equality NC, the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in North Carolina, celebrated Kinsley’s call to an end on a policy the organization called “obsolete and scientifically unnecessary”.
In an email, Kendra Johnson, the organization’s chief executive, said she was delighted that state health officials were opposed to FDA policies, adding that people “in positions of power in systems are crucial in promoting change.”
“Banning gay and bisexual men from donating stigmatizes a whole class of people by linking them to HIV, a disease that potentially affects everyone,” Johnson said.
Of the several years it took the FDA to first lift the ban on gay and bisexual blood donations and then shorten the reprieve period, Johnson said, “Unfortunately, it may take decades to overcome bigotry and misinformation.”
Blood shortages across the country are exacerbated by COVID-19
Kinsley’s request to the FDA head comes amid a nationwide blood shortage.
In January, the American Red Cross announced its first-ever blood crisis. Blood donation has fallen by 10% since the start of the pandemic, the organization said, forcing the Red Cross to limit the amount of blood it distributes to hospitals. Some hospitals on certain days lacked up to 25% of the blood products they requested.
At the time, the Red Cross said the drop in donations was exacerbated by fears about the high-transfer omicron option. The low turnout of blood donors has already begun due to the spread of the delta option in August.
FDA restrictions on when gay and bisexual men can donate blood only exacerbate blood shortages, wrote Kinsley and other health officials.
The Red Cross speaks about the legality of donating blood should not be determined by sexual orientation, and recognizes the “damage this policy has done to many in the LGBTQ + community.” Waiver of the postponement policy also has support from the American Medical Association.
The Red Cross says it helps assess other criteria that can be used to identify eligible donors, but at the same time it cannot as a regulated organization “unilaterally change regarding” deferral policies for gays and bisexual men.
Instead of blocking all sexually active gays and bisexual men from donating blood, the FDA should supplement nucleic acid testing with an “individual risk assessment based on our accurate knowledge of how HIV is transmitted,” Kinsley wrote.
Assessing individual behavior means checking for “participation in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex,” according to the human rights campaign.
The FDA is currently working on a study to determine whether individual risk assessment can replace time-based deferral policies as an effective way to protect the blood supply. In February, the agency reported WCNC it has no specific timeline to complete the study.
This was stated by the organizers of the study expect to enroll 2,000 gays and bisexuals from all over the country who are interested in donating blood and have had sex with another man for the past three months.
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Kinsley is calling for an end to the FDA’s policy on gays who donate blood
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