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American Red Cross changes policy on blood donations for gay, bi men

The antiquated, yet still current practice is to ban men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood within 12 months of having sex with another man. But starting June 8, the wait time will be cut to three months.

Image source: Pixabay.com

The American Red Cross has changed its restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, and other men who have sex with other men (MSM).

Aside from gay and bisexual men, the policy also affects women who have sex with MSM, and donors with recent tattoos or piercings.

The antiquated, yet still current practice is to ban MSM from donating blood within 12 months of having sex with another man. But starting June 8, the wait time will be cut to three months.

This is not a pro-LGBTQIA move, however; instead, there’s severe shortage of blood donations in the US due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Earlier, in April, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated that: “The Covid-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges to the US blood supply. Donor centers have experienced a dramatic reduction in donations due to the implementation of social distancing and the cancellation of blood drives.”

The Red Cross’ policies were established in 1983 based on recommendations from the FDA to prevent the spread of HIV. At that time, the FDA implemented a lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.

In 2015, during Pres. Barack Obama’s administration, that policy was eased to a ban on donations from men who had sex with the men in the past year.

In Twitter in 2015, the Philippine Red Cross was asked about its policy re blood donation of members of the LGBTQIA community. In its post, the organization stated that: “We do not discriminate. We allow people to donate blood for as long as they practice healthy lifestyle.”

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The wording was – obviously – vague, pandering on non-discrimination yet also complying with the more explicit policy of the Department of Health (DOH) pertaining blood donation of men who have sex with men (including gay and bi men).

According to the National Voluntary Blood Services Program (NVBSP) of the DOH, there are individuals disqualified from donating blood (known as “deferred” donors).

“A prospective donor may be deferred at any point during the collection and testing process. Whether or not a person is deferred temporarily or permanently will depend on the specific reason for disqualification (e.g. a person may be deferred temporarily because of anemia, a condition that is usually reversible). If a person is to be deferred, his or her name is entered into a list of deferred donors maintained by the blood center, often known as the ‘deferral registry’. If a deferred donor attempts to give blood before the end of the deferral period, the donor will not be accepted for donation. Once the reason for the deferral no longer exists and the temporary deferral period has lapsed, the donor may return to the blood and be re-entered into the system.”

As per DOH, those who may be deferred include:

  • Anyone who has ever used intravenous drugs (illegal IV drugs)
  • Men who have had sexual contact with other men
  • Anyone who has ever received clotting factor concentrates
  • Anyone with a positive test for HIV (AIDS virus)
  • Men and woman who have engaged in sex for money or drugs
  • Anyone who has had hepatitis
  • Anyone who has taken Tegison for psoriasis
  • Anyone who has risk factors for variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) or “mad cow”

Following the changes announced by US FDA and the American Red Cross, no explicit policy update has been announced by the Philippine Red Cross, or the DOH on this.

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