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Campaigners urge: Let gay and bi men give blood as supplies face coronavirus threat

Campaigners urge: Let gay and bi men give blood as supplies face coronavirus threat

  • Many countries still ban or restrict gay and bi men from donating blood.
A sheriff donates blood in Lynchburg, United States.

Campaigners in the USA and Canada are urging officials to let gay and bisexual men give blood as supplies face a coronavirus threat.

Blood supplies are running low because people are not coming forward to donate due to the need to socially distance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Doctors say you can’t contract COVID-19 through donated blood. But obviously they still need donors to accidents, cancer patients and many other conditions that require blood.

US Surgeon General Jerome M Adams urged Americans to give blood during the White House Coronavirus Task Force press conference. Likewise Dr Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said there is an ‘ongoing need’ for blood donors.

They particularly hope Millennials and Generation Z will come forward to donate.

But in the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restricts gay and bi men from donating. Men who have sex with men can’t donate blood unless they haven’t had sex for the past 12 months.

Meanwhile in Canada, that wait time is lower – just three months. However, it still excludes many from giving blood.

‘Antiquated ban’

In the US, LGBT+ organization GLAAD is begging the FDA to relax their rules.

GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis said:

‘The antiquated ban that still prevents gay and bisexual men, and men who have sex with men from donating blood must be immediately lifted by the FDA.

‘Currently, all men who have had sex with men in the past 12 months can not donate blood. Leading medical experts have highlighted for years that the ban is ineffective and doesn’t rely on science.’

Likewise, in Canada Dr Dustin Costescu made the same plea to Canadian Blood Services (CBS). He is a sexual health specialist and associate professor at McMaster University Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Costescu said: ‘When we see notices about blood shortages and the urgent need for donation, it’s very frustrating to be in a position where you can’t donate even though you would be an eligible match.’ 

What the science says

It is true that gay and bi men make up a large number of the majority of new HIV cases in many countries.

However, those numbers are starting to fall, thanks to PrEP, regular testing and ‘undetectable equals untransmittable’, meaning people with HIV on effective treatment can’t pass the virus on.

That’s why countries like Italy and Spain use a behaviour-based approach. Rather than banning all gay and bi men, they only restrict men who have unprotected sex with multiple partners. People having safe sex in monogamous relationships can still donate.

Therefore, while many support bans, others argue they are based on outdated, homophobic stereotypes.

The American Public Health Association has stated that the current ban ‘is not based in science’. Instead they argue other countries’ choices and fears are ruling the FDA’s decision-making.

Likewise, The Red Cross has also spoken out against the ban. It says ‘blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation’.

Meanwhile respected LGBT+ research organization, The Williams Institute has calculated how many more donors could come forward in the US.

It says, if a ban were to be lifted, an additional 360,000 men would likely donate. In turn, that could help save the lives of more than a million people. 

GLAAD’s Ellis said: ‘Holding on to an antiquated, discriminatory ban during these uncertain times is absurd.

‘The FDA needs to put science above stigma. Gay and bisexual men, and men who have sex with men want to give blood and should be able to contribute to help their fellow Americans.’