US Department of Health to debate `gay blood` ban

Whilst Edwin Poots is still underfire over the `gay blood` ban being `irrational`, new statistics from Northern Ireland and the Republic have revealed that despite being a tiny proportion of the overall population, men who have sex with men account for over half of all new HIV cases.

The US Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability which also has a permanent deferment `gay blood` donations by men is to discuss the issue on Thursday.

Blood banking expert Dr. Jay Brooks from the University of Florida’s College of Medicine has warned against lifting the 30 year old ban stating “donations from men who’ve had sex with men is that they have a much higher prevalence of HIV than the heterosexual community.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2010 analysis shows “men who have sex with men,” account for a large majority of new HIV infections, much more so than even injection drug users, or IDUs:  “CDC estimates that MSM represent approximated 4 percent of the male population in the United States, but male-to-male sex accounted for more than three-fourths (78 percent) of new HIV infections among men and nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of all new infections in 2010.”

Whilst all blood is screened and tested it is never 100% certain.  The HIV screening tests for antibodies which are usually produced within 2-8 weeks of infection but in rare cases not until as long as 6 months.

A case in point being in June 2008 where “a married Missouri man who admitted to having sex – often anonymously with men and women outside of his marriage – donated HIV-infected blood. According to the CDC’s Oct. 22, 2010 “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” two recipients received the contaminated blood. One was a Colorado patient undergoing a kidney transplant, and he was later confirmed to be HIV positive following a transfusion with the infected donor’s blood. The second patient, an Arkansas man, died of heart disease two days after receiving the HIV-infected blood.”

The US debate comes after students at the University of Michigan used a White House epetition claiming the ban was “discriminatory and inadequate.” and seeking the blood donation agencies to simply ask “Have you had unprotected sexual contact with a new partner in the past 12 weeks?”.  Whilst others have cited Britian & Canada moving to 1 and 5 year deferral periods.

Dr Brooks however states that “It’s certainly been documented in the medical literature that if we went to a one-year deferral period, it would not significantly add to the blood supply.”

The Northern Irish media often overlook the fact that the Republic of Ireland also has a permanent deferral on donations from men who have sex with men.

The Irish Blood Transfusion Website states they have

“a duty to minimise the risk of a blood transfusion transmitting an infection to patients – the European Union directive requires that “all necessary measures have been taken to safeguard the health of individuals who are the recipients of blood and blood components.” ….In order to assure the continued safety of the blood supply, we currently ask those people who may have a particularly high risk of carrying blood-borne viruses not to give blood.  This includes men who have ever had sex with another man / men. The reason for this exclusion rests on specific sexual behaviour (such as anal and oral sex). There is no exclusion of gay men who have never had sex with a man nor of women who have sex with women.  The decision is not based on sexuality or orientation, only specific actions…… despite improvements in blood screening tests, a small number of infected donations may be missed because of the ‘window period’ between getting the infection and the test showing a positive result. The medical literature contains many recent examples. See further reading on

…….While safer sex, through the use of condoms, does reduce the transmission of infections, it cannot eliminate the risk altogether. Men who have sex with men are disproportionately affected by HIV according to recent Irish data.

  • IBTS does not believe that performing more detailed interviews prior to donation nor other risk assessments at donation clinics is effective or feasible.  For those donors who test positive for HIV or other infections, the risk behaviour that likely led to the infection may not be admitted for some time after the donor is contacted.  This does not give IBTS confidence that information would be freely provided as part of a more extensive pre-donation interview.
  • The issue of monogamous partners is difficult. Evidence from heterosexual partnerships suggests that ‘innocent’ partners are very often entirely unaware that their partner / spouse is unfaithful.  IBTS considers therefore that individuals can only attest to their own behaviour when donating and not speak for their partner.

While there is always a need for new blood donors and for existing and previous donors to continue to provide support to the transfusion service, blood supply is not expected to increase greatly should, for example, a finite limit for deferral of 12 months since last MSM activity be introduced.”

29th November was World Aids Day

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