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North America's gay blood donor fight

Fri 20 Nov 2009 In: HIV View at NDHA

In NZ, Rainbow Wellington has been questioning the need to exclude all gay men from blood donations. In Canada and the United States, the gay blood donor ban is also questioned. Writing in the Advocate (November 2009), Stephen Thresher notes that the US Food and Drug Administration banned gay men and men who had sex with men from donating blood in 1982. However, by 2006, the American Red Cross, American Association of Blood Banks and America's Blood Centres questioned the ongoing blanket exclusion as 'scientifically and medically unneccessary." President Obama has appointed HIV specialists to the FDA and other government health agencies, so will policy reform now follow? To screen out potential risk in the context of HIV, the FDA uses a questionnaire about potential high risk behaviours, which augment existing HIV test results (which may turn up 'false positives.' The aforementioned US blood donation NGOs believe that the question of risk should only lead to a single year duration ban for gay men and MSMs. The FDA's haemotologists cite increased risk of HIV exposure should they abandon the policy, but the American Association of Blood Banks seriously questions this. They argue that the FDA has used unrepresentative STI clinic populations to justify its policy as opposed to a broader representative population sample. It questions the generalisability of that research to monogamous gay men who conscientiously have safe sex. Argentina, Austria, Japan and Hungary now have single year duration waiting periods for gay/MSM blood donations and Spain has even witnessed a sixfold decrease in transfusion-born HIV infections, from twenty four to a mere four cases after it adopted the latter policy. However, to date, the FDA has maintained that the gay male community may be a 'reservoir of infections' other than HIV/AIDS. Thrasher does seem optimistic about the end of the blood donation ban, though, given that the Obama administration is committed to evidence-based scientific and medical policy. Across the border, Kyle Freeman (36) seems to havelied repeatedly about having sex with other men in order to donate blood to Canadian Blood Services, according to the Ottawa Citizen. CBS does not accept donations from men who have had sex with other men since 1977, deeming them at high HIV risk. Freeman has testified that he practices safe sex. He is therefore at low risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and was routinely tested for the virus before donating blood. All of his tests have have had negative outcomes, so that removes any question of false data. He is now suing Canadian Blood Services. CBS is said to be in violation of his rights and those of all men who have sex with men in Canada for excluding them from blood donation. Freeman gave blood eighteen times (1990-2002). At that point, he sent the agency anonymous e-mails, which acknowledged that he had lied on the initial questionnaire. CBS filed a subsequent lawsuit against him for "negligent misrepresentation".   Recommended Stephen Thresher: "Blood, Sex and the FDA" Advocate 1032: November 2009: 50-53. "Gay Man Challenges Canada's Blood Donation Ban" Topix: 25.10.09: Craig Young - 20th November 2009    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Friday, 20th November 2009 - 1:04pm

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