In this time of crisis, in this time of global pandemic, ICUs and hospitals are in incredible need for resources. One of these resources that hospitals are continually pressed for is blood. As of recent, over 4,000 blood donation events have been cancelled. People who need regular blood transfusions are in danger, as the supply of blood in hospitals continues to decrease. Recently, the American Red Cross gave out a memo urging all to try to donate blood. They urge the safety of the patient. In this global crisis, all should try and donate blood, as to maintain public health.
Well, all except one group of people: gay men. At present, men who have had sex with other men in the past three months may not donate blood. Yet, at this time, around 1.7% of the population identifies as a gay male. This means that 5,562,400 are not eligible to donate blood. Over 5 million Americans are not able to do their best to help the nation, to help those in need. That is clearly a problem.
So where does this law come from? The mandate originated in 1983, in the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis. The FDA originally instituted a policy banning same-sex loving men from donating blood anytime in their lifetime. In 2015, however, the FDA revised the law to only mandate a one year abstinence of all gay men from having any sexual intercourse. The FDA recently revised the law again, moving to a three month period.
However, it’s important to mention that the Red Cross already screens all blood donated for infectious diseases. If any blood had an infectious disease in it, no matter the donor, it would be removed from the supply. Likewise, it is important to mention that HIV/AIDS is not a disease exclusively applying to gay men. According to HIV.gov, only 69% of diagnosed HIV cases come from gay and bisexual men. What about the other 31% of the population? Are they irrelevant?
Likewise, the ban has no active exceptions. With the continually expanding usage of HIV/AIDS-preventive medicine, such as Truvada for PrEP, many gay and bisexual men can clearly show their lacking of the disease. This is an expectation with our medical policies: as our medical technology and practices become more and more advanced, so should our legislation. We need to reinvent our blood donation policy, as so that it catches up with our physical procedures at present.
COVID-19 has caused fear, but it’s also caused a general desire to help. People want to get involved, people want to do anything they can for public health. It is in this instance, with the donation of blood, that we are actively preventing a whole social group from helping those in need. Our legislation has consequences and, in a time of crisis, this gay-ban will hurt those who need regular access to blood.