Until the recent swell in blood donations, the national blood supply has been running low for quite some time. The Red Cross and other blood banks have been trying to increase the number of donors, but not until the recent national tragedy has there been a large-scale interest in blood donation. This renewed interest has given many people a fresh look at the methods blood banks use to ensure that the nation’s blood supply is safe and disease-free.
According to a recent article from PlanetOut.com, one of the methods used to ensure the safety of the blood supply is a screening question that bars gay and bisexual men from donating blood. According to the people who set this standard, gay and bisexual men are, by definition, a high-risk category for HIV and AIDS. With all of the public information campaigns to educate the general public about the facts regarding HIV and AIDS, how is it possible that our blood banks still do not recognize the facts about HIV and AIDS?
According to PlanetOut.com, the policy was adopted in 1985 when very little was known about HIV and AIDS and the highest percentage of HIV positive cases were among gay men. The policy also bans women who have “had a male sexual partner who had sex with another male even once since 1977”. Nowadays, gay men no longer comprise the majority of AIDS cases. The majority of new AIDS cases occur among heterosexuals, and there are a growing number of cases among women and African Americans. Yet, the screening questions asked of all donors have not changed to reflect recent statistics. Sadly, this lack of policy change reinforces the myth that AIDS is a gay disease.
The nation’s blood supply is very safe. Each blood donation goes through a series of 12 tests to check for HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis, Syphilis, and other diseases. Barred from donating are people who have lived in countries where AIDS or Malaria are widespread, those who have traveled abroad recently, and even people who have received a tattoo or body piercing recently. In most cases, failing to meet a requirement results in only a deferment period of up to a year before being allowed to donate. Being a gay or bisexual man, however, results in a lifetime ban.
According the Red Cross, gays are not considered a group of AIDS victims but are still considered high-risk. Malayna Perlofs, a spokesperson for the Red Cross, explains that “it is the action” of male-male sex that is considered high-risk behavior. The Red Cross follows guidelines set by the Food and Drug Administration, as do all blood banks in the nation and those in other countries as well. An advisory council to the FDA voted 7-6 last year to maintain the current ban on gays, and the Red Cross favored maintaining the ban even though half of the nation’s blood centers supported a change in policy. The FDA and the Red Cross can not be faulted for wanting to keep the blood supply safe, but it makes no sense to ban people for committing acts which by themselves do not cause AIDS.
Dr. F. Blaine Hollinger, who chaired the FDA advisory council last year, told PlanetOut.com that gay men are susceptible to many illnesses and the concern is not about AIDS, but “for the diseases we don’t know about.” It sounds to me as though the current policy is maintained out of fear of a ‘gay disease’ or a belief that gay blood will make people gay, and that is simply ludicrous.