On Friday, July 11, the second annual nationwide National Gay Blood Drive (NGBD) will take place to raise public awareness and increase pressure on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change its policy on the long-standing ban on blood donation by men who have had sex with other men (MSM) – a restriction that has been in place since 1983.
In Minnesota, the drive is scheduled to occur from 7:30 AM to 4 PM at Memorial Blood Centers' Saint Paul Donor Center located at 737 Pelham Boulevard.
New this year, supporters who are ineligible to donate blood are being encouraged by NGBD organizers to bring a friend (surrogate) to donate in their place. The number of donations will be documented by NGBD organizers and sent to the FDA, Health and Human Services, and the White House in an effort to illustrate the additional units of blood that could be added to the nation's blood supply if the ban on MSM blood donations were changed.
Participants who do not meet current FDA guidelines for eligibility will not be allowed to donate blood.
"The primary concern of Memorial Blood Centers, and all blood centers nationwide, is a safe and stable blood supply for our community and our nation" said Jed Gorlin, M.D., Memorial Blood Center's Chief Medical Officer and Vice President Medical and Quality Affairs, adding "we rigorously follow all FDA mandates on donor eligibility, and recognize the need to consistently apply scientifically based deferral policies across all prospective blood donors."
Key Factors Regarding Blood Donor Eligibility
- Memorial Blood Centers and all other blood centers are governed by the FDA and are required to follow its mandates. The FDA determines blood donation eligibility which currently includes an indefinite or lifetime deferral for blood donation by MSM—a restriction that has been in place since 1983.
- Keeping in strict compliance with FDA mandates to maintain a safe and available blood supply continues to be Memorial Blood Centers' highest priority.
- Memorial Blood Centers and other blood centers nationwide have repeatedly urged the FDA to review and amend its deferral criteria for prospective MSM donors, supporting the use of rational, scientifically-based deferral periods that are applied consistently among donors who engage in similar risk activities. While supporting a change in the MSM deferral period, active MSMs would remain ineligible to donate blood.
- Since 2006, AABB, America's Blood Centers, and ARC have been advocating for changes to FDA deferral criteria. The American Medical Association (AMA) voted in June 2013 to oppose the ban as well and, similarly, has recommended that the FDA craft policy that more accurately represents scientific research.
- Current scientific testing is reliable and sensitive, ensuring a low risk of transfusion-transmitted diseases for which donated blood is screened.
- Memorial Blood Centers continues to monitor international policy changes (e.g., in Canada and the U.K.) regarding blood donation restrictions and deferrals, specifically MSM.
- Additional information about Memorial Blood Centers' donor eligibility guidelines can be found at http://www.mbc.org/Libraries/Donate_Blood_Docs/Blood_Donor_Education_Materials.sflb.ashx
- To learn more about the FDA's blood donation policies, visit the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/BloodBloodProducts/Questionsaboutblood/ucm108186.htm
MSM Deferral Q&A
What is Memorial Blood Centers' position on the MSM Deferral question?
Along with other members of America's Blood Centers (ABC), Memorial Blood Centers has supported ABC's proposal to the FDA to change the MSM deferral from lifetime to the same as most other risk deferrals. The reason is three-fold:
- Much more is known about the epidemiology and risk of HIV/AIDS than when FDA issued its original guidance.
- Donor history questionnaires are more rigorous today and more likely to screen out people with a risk of a blood-borne disease.
- The introduction of nucleic acid amplification testing has dramatically reduced the "window" period of infectivity (i.e., how long it takes to detect the presence of the virus in a person who's been infected)—from 56 days to 11 days.
Why are homosexual men and not homosexual women deferred from donating blood?
The FDA, based on research from the Centers for Disease Control, has determined that gay men are at the highest risk for HIV infection. Other groups excluded from giving blood under the HIV deferral criteria include those born in sub-Saharan Africa and those who have ever used intravenous drugs, along with individuals who have exchanged money for sex.
What about men who have had a low number of partners, practice safe sex, or who are currently in monogamous relationships?
Having had a low number of partners is known to decrease the risk of HIV infection. However, to date, no donor eligibility questions have been shown to reliable identify a subset of MSM (e.g., based on monogamy or safe sexual practices) who do not still have a substantially increased rate of HIV infection compared to the general population or currently accepted blood donors.
America's Blood Centers, FDA