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New Guidelines Ease Restrictions on Gay Men Donating Blood

  • Category: LGBTQ+ Care
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  • Written By: Baton Rouge General
New Guidelines Ease Restrictions on Gay Men Donating Blood

Blood shortages during the pandemic renewed efforts to lift donor restrictions for gay and bisexual men, and in December 2020 things started to shift. Fast forward to January 2023, when the FDA proposed new guidance aimed to allow gay and bisexual men in monogamous relationships to give blood without abstaining from sex. The proposed guidelines were finalized in early May, and the new approach is starting to be implemented by blood banks across the U.S.

The new guidelines focus on donors’ behavior, not gender or sexual orientation. Instead of broadly excluding one group, anyone looking to donate blood will receive the same pre-screening questionnaire with individual risk-based questions to determine their eligibility.

Anyone who has had anal sex with a new sexual partner, or more than one sexual partner, within the last three months would be asked to wait three months to donate blood. The FDA says this is to reduce the likelihood of donations by individuals with a new or recent HIV infection that may be undetectable in testing.

Currently, the policy would exclude donations from people taking PrEP, a pill used to prevent an HIV infection, until three months after their last dose. The FDA noted that PrEP can delay the detection of the virus in screening tests.

Every unit of donated blooded is tested extensively for possible blood-borne diseases, like HIV, hepatitis C, and syphilis, but the testing is not 100-percent accurate especially at detecting a very early infection. To ensure the safety of blood and other tissues for donation, the FDA has long used scientific data to automatically defer certain populations. But, the federal group says its new rules reflect the latest scientific evidence and that there has been no negative impact on the blood supply after previous changes surrounding gay men donating blood.

Restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood stemmed from the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, starting with the enactment of a lifetime ban from donating blood in 1983. Major change to the federal policy didn’t happen until more than 30 years later, in 2015, when the outright ban was replaced with the one-year abstinence requirement. Then in April 2020, the FDA decreased the donation deferral period from 12 months to three months.