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Victory: US eases ban on gay and bi men giving blood

Victory: US eases ban on gay and bi men giving blood

  • As a result, gay and bi men who survive coronavirus can also help other virus patients by giving plasma.
A sheriff donates blood in Lynchburg, United States.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had revised the ban on gay and bi men giving blood in response to the coronavirus crisis.

Until now, men who have sex with men had to wait 12 months after the last time they had sex before donating blood. The FDA has now reduced this to three months, in line with many other countries.

It comes as the US calls for people to donate blood to help with a shortage. Regular donors are not always available to give blood due to self-isolating for COVID-19 or because they have fallen ill.

Moreover, only those who can give blood can donate plasma. Now the FDA restrictions have eased, more gay and bi men who survive COVID-19 should be able to donate their plasma to help other patients with the virus.

Plasma is the yellow fluid in which blood cells are suspended. And doctors hope plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients will be an effective treatment.

The technique, called convalescent-plasma therapy, dates back to the late 19th century. Although it’s not guaranteed it will work against coronavirus, it may be one of the best options available to hospitals at the moment.

Imperfect victory

US LGBT+ organization GLAAD has been leading the campaign for the FDA to ease the gay and bi men’s blood ban. They have argued the ban, brought in during another pandemic – the AIDS crisis – is out of date.

Now they have welcomed the FDA’s change of heart, which came after weeks of pressure.

But they say the victory is ‘imperfect’. They want the ban lifted entirely. Instead, they say blood donation should be based on individual risk rather than restricting a whole group. Multiple other countries have moved to this new model.

GLAAD president and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis, said:

‘LGBTQ Americans can hold their heads up today and know that our voices will always triumph over discrimination.

‘This is a victory for all of us who spoke out against the discriminatory ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.

‘The FDA’s decision to lower the deferral period on men who have sex with men from 12 months to three months is a step towards being more in line with science, but remains imperfect.

‘We will keep fighting until the deferral period is lifted and gay and bi men, and all LGBTQ people, are treated equal to others.’

GLAAD’s petition calling on the FDA to lift the ban now has over 22,000 signatures.

Celebrities have also joined their campaign. They include Sam Smith, Michelle Visage, Daniel Franzese, Peppermint, Margaret Cho, Nico Tortorella, Josh Feldman and Johnny Sibilly.

Meanwhile a group of US senators has also called on the FDA to review its policy.

The senators, including Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and more wrote to the FDA Commissioner Dr Stephen Hahn.

Chance to save a million lives

The change could also have a long-term impact on easing blood supplies in the United States.

The FDA has confirmed the change is permanent. It said they expected the policy to ‘remain in place after the COVID-19 public health emergency ends’.

Research organization The Williams Institute studied the issue in 2014. They found that if the ban did not exist, an additional 360,000 men would likely donate. This could help save the lives of more than a million people.

Moreover, the change will also reduce restrictions on women who have sex with gay or bi men. They are covered by the same rules.