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The Impact of Blood Drives

When you think of giving blood, what do you associate with the experience? Doing good for others? Saving lives? How about, giving back to those who need it the most? These may be all things you connect with blood donation. But, what about controversy?

According to the American Red Cross, only an estimated 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, and less than 10 percent of this group actually donates each year. Did you ever wonder why your high school or local town community always organized blood drives? For this very reason.

Although donating blood is encouraged by many, there is gender specific criteria that most don’t know about which makes donating blood for some an arduous process.

On the American Red Cross’ website page detailing eligibility requirements for blood donors, there are explicit stipulations in place for gay and bi-sexual men to donate blood, or as the American Red Cross’ references the “MSM” (men who have sex with men) community.

The current FDA “Revised Recommendations for Reducing the Risk of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission by Blood and Blood Products” states that a man who has had sex with another man should defer for 12 months from their most recent sexual encounter before giving blood.

As the Red Cross states, all U.S. blood collection organizations must follow this policy.

Some editors feel that this policy should be revised and is a thing of the past.

One editor said. “The rules in place are clearly dated, and unfair because they come from a time when the HIV/AIDS outbreak rocked the world…”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The FDA first introduced their plan in 1985, which was originally to indefinitely ban male donors who have had sex

Another editor considered the MSM stipulations to be unfair and said, “They’re centered around an outdated fear-mongering stereotype of gay/bisexual men. It’s been clearly shown that anyone, regardless of sex or gender can contract HIV/AIDS, it’s ridiculous to alienate certain groups from donating blood.”

“The MSM rule is really archaic,” said another editor.

Other editors feel the policy is fair but needs updating.

“I think the MSM restrictions are fair, but a little outdated. The restrictions exist to prevent the contaminated blood from spreading, but after donating, your blood is tested and might be rejected if it’s ‘bad’,” said one editor.

Another editor said, “I believe this waiting period should be applied to everyone for it to be fair…the deferral period should be whichever scientifically makes sense and is safe for the population and should be applied to all who are sexually active.”

The Red Cross recognized the hurt this policy has caused too many in the LGBTQ+ community, and put a statement on their website which reads The Red Cross, “believes blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation. We are committed to working toward achieving this goal.”

The Red Cross is encouraging the FDA to reduce its deferral time for “MSM” from 12 months to three months since their last sexual encounter. The Red Cross said the three-month period has a scientific rationale behind it and corresponds to the period of risk when tests cannot detect early infection. According to The Red Cross Canada (as of 2019) and Great Britain (as of 2017) have changed their policies to this as well.

Most editors feel that if there are enough statistics, and scientific evidence the deferral period should be changed.

“If the three-month waiting period does indeed have a scientific rationale behind it, as The Red Cross claims, then it would make sense to…update the plan accordingly,” said one editor.

One editor explained why a deferral program is important.

“I have been deferred twice: once for low iron, and another not too long ago after getting a tattoo. These limitations need to be present to mitigate the amount of “bad blood” that gets donated,” said the editor.

Our own Monmouth University campus has been involved with enforcing these stipulations.

Two years ago on campus, “An openly gay man was turned down from donating blood, even though he hadn’t had sex for over a year (well beyond the 12 month stipulation),” said one editor.

In regard to transgender donors the FDA guidance allows blood donors to register with the gender they identify with. There is no deferral associated with being transgender, and eligibility is based on the gender the person reports with.

Although the Red Cross acknowledges the hurt these policies have caused, it is ultimately up to the FDA to change their policies. Unfortunately, until this change occurs, the policy will remain in place.

PHOTO COURTESY of Monmouth University