HIV-era blood drive policy excludes some

Men who have had sex with other men since 1977 have a lifetime deferral.

Collection technician Luke Friedrich checks on a volunteer as he gives blood to the Red Cross on Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, in Coffman Union.

Amanda Snyder

Collection technician Luke Friedrich checks on a volunteer as he gives blood to the Red Cross on Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, in Coffman Union.

Meghan Holden

Tanner Zimmerman wanted to donate blood to the American Red Cross on Monday, but couldn’t because of his sexual orientation.

A policy put in place by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1983 prohibits men who have had sex with other men in or after 1977 from donating blood. The guideline was implemented because male-to-male sex has an increased risk of HIV, according to the FDA’s website.

Because less than 38 percent of the population is eligible to donate — and only 8 percent do — many say the FDA’s lifetime deferral of gay men needs to be changed.

“As unfair as it was even in that time, having the same limits in place in today’s world is outdated and discriminatory,” said Zimmerman, a University of Minnesota psychology freshman.

At the “We Challenge U” blood drive on Monday, University of Minnesota students voiced their concerns with the current guidelines.

 “You’re secluding a whole section of people who want to give back,” said speech-language-hearing sciences freshman Kim Schlesser.

Casey Casella, a political science freshman, agreed.

“Not everybody can donate blood, so why would you limit those people that are good donors?” Casella said.

Yosef Amrami, an officer for the University’s American Red Cross Student Organization, which hosted the event, said he has gay friends who want to donate blood to give to the community.

Before donating blood, donors have a “mini-physical” and fill out a health history form on the computer, said Sue Gonsior, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross. If a man marks that he has had sex with a man since 1977, then he is automatically deferred.

She said all donated blood is tested for HIV before it’s used.

Gonsior said the American Red Cross is also opposed to the current deferral period.

In 2010, the American Red Cross, among others, proposed that the FDA change the deferral time for male-to-male sex to 12 months, which is the current deferral time for people who have had sexual contact with someone who has HIV or viral hepatitis.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Tissue Availability chose not to change the current guidelines, citing a need for more research to prevent any risks to the blood supply.

Although “the risk of getting HIV from a transfusion or a blood product has been nearly eliminated in the United States” through improved procedures, the FDA said on its website, its “first obligation is to assure the safety of the blood supply and protect the health of blood recipients.”

A 2010 study on the potential effects of lifting the current ban of gay male donors by The Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law predicted that about 90,000 additional pints of blood could be donated annually if the deferral was decreased to 12 months and about 219,000 pints of blood could be donated annually if the ban was lifted.

The American Red Cross will continue to push the FDA to modify the guidelines, Gonsior said.

“Everyone should have the right to take part in this great deed,” Amrami said. “It is something that should see reform.”