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Blood donation eligibility still limited for gay men, FDA exploring future changes

Current guidelines say men who have sex with men must be abstinent for three months to donate. Local leaders say this policy is based on stigma, not science.

LANCASTER, Pa. — If you want to donate blood, there are criteria that you must meet to be eligible. This includes being 16 years or older, weighing 110 pounds or more, and feeling healthy at the time of your donation. 

However, there are additional requirements that can limit who is eligible to donate blood, especially when it comes to your sexual history.

Tiffany Shirley is the president of Lancaster Pride. She says the issue of blood collection organizations not accepting donations from sexually active gay men was amplified by the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in 2016.

“When the shooting happened, a lot of people went to go donate blood and they were turned away because of their sexual orientation. It was really upsetting that they wanted to help their friends and they couldn’t because of these outdated laws," she said. 

The current FDA guidelines say men who have sex with men cannot donate blood for three months following their most recent sexual contact. These are the guidelines organizations including the American Red Cross must follow.

“All of those guidelines come to us and all blood collection organizations through the FDA, we are required to adhere to those standards," says Lisa Landis of the American Red Cross Greater Pennsylvania Region.

Shirley tells FOX43 that these policies are rooted in stigma, rather than science.

However, there is work being done to reevaluate the current guidelines. 

The FDA recently concluded a study called ADVANCE, which aims to determine if a donor history questionnaire might be more appropriate than the 3-month waiting period, while still reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply.

Shirley tells FOX43 this would be a better, more inclusive policy.

“I think it’s safe for anybody to give blood who qualifies to give blood. I don’t think their sexual orientation should be included in that," she said.

In a statement to FOX43, the FDA said: 

Although we do not have a specific timeline for when our analysis will be complete, the agency believes the initial data from the study, taken in the context of other data available from blood surveillance in the U.S. and in other countries, will likely support a policy transition to individual risk-based donor screening questions for reducing the risk of HIV transmission.

The risk of transmission is already low. According to the Red Cross, the risk of contracting HIV through donated blood is a one in two million chance.

Shirley says Lancaster Pride will continue with their regular HIV and STI testing but hopes that policies will soon change so that they can do even more to help their community.

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