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March 12, 2010

Senators urge FDA to end ban on gay blood donation

Washington, D.C.--Pressure is increasing on the Food and Drug Administration to lift a ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men.

The controls were put in place in 1983, when AIDS was little understood and testing for HIV was all but nonexistent. What testing there was could produce false negatives for up to six months on people recently infected with HIV.

Now, however, donated blood is tested using a different method that can detect the presence of HIV within 12 days of infection. Despite this miniscule window, the FDA has maintained its ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with another man, even once, since 1977.

A letter from 18 senators to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg urged her to end the ban, which stymies efforts to build up the nation�s supply of donated blood.

�With hospitals and emergency rooms across the country in constant and urgent need of blood products, we believe certain blood donor deferral policies should be reviewed and appropriately modified and modernized while ensuring the blood supply meets the highest possible standards that we all expect in America,� the letter states.

It was signed by Democratic senators including Sherrod Brown of Ohio, former presidential candidate John Kerry, New York�s Kirstin Gillibrand, Dick Durban and Roland Burris of Illinois, Al Franken of Minnesota, Wisconsin�s Mark Feingold and Michigan�s Carl Levin.

The letter notes that the Red Cross and other organizations involved in blood-banking called the ban �medically and scientifically unwarranted� in a 2006 FDA workshop.

The senators also note the window period in the testing, but point out that a similar window exists in testing for hepatitis B and C, so a deferral period is used before the blood can be transfused, protecting recipients.

�However, there is a clear and unscientific double standard embedded in the current deferral rules for potential exposure to HIV,� it states.

It goes on to note that a person who engages in heterosexual contact with a partner with HIV cannot donate for a year, but a man who was in a monogamous relationship with another man 26 years ago cannot donate blood--ever.

�The safety, availability, and integrity of our nation�s blood supply are vital. For these reasons, we agree . . . that the time has come for the FDA to modify the lifetime deferral for MSM to be consistent with sensible health and safety policy and with FDA deferral guidelines for high-risk heterosexual behavior,� the letter concludes. �We request that you initiate a review of the lifetime deferral requirement for men who have sex with men wishing to donate blood and that you reexamine the deferral criteria for all blood donors to ensure all high-risk behaviors are appropriately addressed.�

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