The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Friday that it will remove a restriction on gay and bisexual men donating blood, a segment of the population that faces a higher risk of HIV.
According to draft guidelines announced by the FDA, the new policy would eliminate a requirement that gay and bisexual men abstain from sexual activity for three months before donating blood, the Associated Press reported. The proposed rule change would be a major shift in a decades-old policy set during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
Instead of requiring three months of abstinence for men who have sex with men, the FDA will make all potential donors fill out a personalized questionnaire that evaluates each person’s risks for HIV before they can donate blood.
“We will continue to work to make sure we have policies that allow everyone who wants to donate blood to be able to donate blood, within what the science allows to keep the blood supply safe,” said the FDA’s Peter Marks, according to The Wall Street Journal.
During the 1980s AIDS crisis, the U.S. barred gay men from donating blood in an effort to prevent the spread of HIV, the sexually-transmitted virus that can lead to AIDS if not treated before it develops. Gay and bisexual men account for nearly 70% of all new HIV diagnoses in the U.S., according to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FDA’s newly drafted guidance comes after medical associations have said that technological advancements in testing have made the extra requirements for gay and bisexual men unnecessary. The move also comes after continued calls for change from LGBTQ advocates.
The FDA lifted the complete ban on gay men donating blood in 2015, requiring them to abstain from same-sex intercourse for a full year before donating. Then, the FDA dropped the abstinence period for blood donations from gay men to three months as the country grappled with a blood shortage resulting from complications of the COVID pandemic, the Journal reported.
Carl Schmid, executive director of the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute, told the Journal that the newest change in the FDA’s guidelines “marks a monumental shift and ends a long and painful era of blanket discrimination against gay men.”
The FDA’s updated guidelines will continue to bar those who have tested positive for HIV and those who are taking HIV medication from donating blood, and blood donation centers must test all blood for HIV and other diseases.
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