Amidst one of the worst public health crises in the recent past, the FDA is limiting the number of blood donations hospitals can accept for an outdated reason.
The year may be 2020, but our federal health agencies are yet to bid farewell to the distant past. In a recent directive, the United States Food and Drug Administration announced a ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood and plasma for clinical trials to treat coronavirus patients. The move has been deemed "antiquated" by LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLAAD. The organization has since set up a petition, now nearing 20,000 signatures, demanding that the FDA lift the restriction, CNN reports. At a time when the COVID-19 outbreak has led to an even greater need for blood and plasma, this decision is unfair to all those who are part of our country's public health system.
According to the FDA's guidelines, the ban is a way to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS. However, this risk is an archaic misconception that only narrows the pool of available blood and plasma. "The FDA cannot let an outdated and discriminatory ban on blood donations from gay and bi men get in the way of potentially life-saving treatment for the country's painful current health crisis," GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis affirmed. "Continuing to enforce this antiquated policy is dangerous, irresponsible, and flies in the face of recommendations from medical experts."
GLAAD is not the only voice of critique in the matter. A group of senators, including Chris Coons, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Tammy Duckworth signed a letter calling for the FDA to rescind the ban. The group addressed the widening gap in blood and plasma supply. The letter read, "We must take every possible step to secure our nation's blood supply in this critical time, and in order to do so, we need to shift away from antiquated and stigmatizing donation policies to ones that are scientifically sound, based on individual risk, and inclusive of all potential healthy blood donors."
In response to the criticism by the LGBTQ+ advocacy group and other lawmakers, an FDA spokesperson, too, acknowledged the decline in blood and plasma supply. Nonetheless, they did not imply that the FDA had plans to lift the ban any time soon. They stated, "At this time, FDA's recommendations regarding blood donor deferral for men who have sex with men have not changed, but we are actively considering the situation as the outbreak progresses." However, by the time the need for more blood arises, it may be too late for some patients, especially those who have contracted the deadly Coronavirus.
A 28-year-old man from New York, who contracted and has since recovered from the disease, expressed his frustration regarding the outmoded ban. "There are so many gay men in [New York] who have clean blood that we are ready to give," he shared in an anonymous interview with CNN. "To know that I have blood right now inside my body that could potentially save the life or help someone else who has COVID-19... I can't see it being anything other than homophobic beliefs. If it really was about HIV, there would be a questionnaire about how much sex people have had." The FDA first barred gay and bi men from donating blood and plasma in 1985. In 2015, however, they updated the policy to allow men who had not had sex with a man in at least 12 months eligible to donate blood. At a crucial time when we should be allowing all those with clean blood to donate, the FDA's newly-introduced ban truly is dangerous and irresponsible.