HIV/AIDS: FDA Panel Votes in Favor of Barring Gay Donors
A ban on blood donations from gay men will likely remain, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. An FDA-convened panel of scientists voted 7-6 yesterday in favor of keeping the ban, saying there was insufficient evidence on the AIDS risk to the nation's blood supply. Because of a low blood supply, the FDA asked the scientific advisers if the policy should change to permit men who had not had sex with another man in the past five years to donate blood. While the vote is non- binding, the Journal-Constitution reports that the FDA typically follows the advice of its scientific panels. The FDA estimated the change would have allowed about 62,300 men who have sex with men to donate blood, raising the possibility that 1.7 units of HIV-infected blood could enter the blood supply. Scientists report that nationally, the risk of receiving HIV-positive blood is about one in 675,000 units. Dr. Jeffrey Lennox, of the Emory University School of Medicine said protecting the blood supply and receiving enough donations is a "delicate balancing act," adding, "Short as we are on blood, we want to include as many people as we can safely include, but at the same time we need to make sure that we satisfy the recipient of the blood that we've done everything that we can to ensure the safety of the blood."
The American Red Cross has supported the decision, saying that the organization "cannot change its procedures in a way that would result in increased numbers of infectious donations." The American Association of Blood Banks, however, supported the proposed change because the screening process would prevent new infections. "The longest window we know to detect the virus is a year. The science is there," AABB Chief Executive Karen Lipton said. Opponents of the ban claim that testing for HIV has become more precise, allowing for detection in as little as 11 days, and argue that while rates of infection among gay men have dropped, heterosexuals now comprise half of all new HIV cases. Peter Velasco, of the National Minority AIDS Council said, "We feel to exclude gay men not only discriminates but also creates a false sense of security." Lennox added, "If you want maximum safety of blood supply, you'd want people who are not IV drug users and who are not promiscuous. To me those criteria would not rule out many gay men" (Staples, Atlanta Journal- Constitution, 9/15).