This policy is discriminatory on many fronts. Any person who has heterosexual sex with a sex worker is only deferred from donating blood for one year, whereas homosexuals are banned for life. In addition, a person having heterosexual sex with an HIV+ person is also only banned for one year. The lifetime ban on gay men donating blood does not consider whether or not the man is in a longtime, committed relationship or any safe sex practices used (such as the use of condoms).
When this FDA policy was passed, in 1983, the tests available for HIV were not as accurate as they are today. They detected antibodies in the bloodstream, which did not develop for three to six months. Current HIV tests are significantly more accurate and timely. They identify viral genetic material, which is evident within two weeks of HIV infection. All units of blood are tested for HIV when collected, and are quickly destroyed if identified as infected in order to avoid erroneous distribution. Scientific advances since the 1980s have made the chance of receiving a unit of blood infected with HIV one in 1.5 million.
The American Red Cross has spoken against this policy, stating that it was based on fear rather than fact. Today, the Red Cross advocates for “the use of rational, scientifically-based deferral periods that are applied fairly and consistently among donors who engage in similar risk activities.” AABB (formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks) and America’s Blood Centers have also spoken out against the ban.
Many other nations have already changed their deferral periods to more reasonable ones. A one-year deferral period – such as what we are advocating – has become the choice of most other industrialized nations who have amended their policies; the most recent of which was the United Kingdom. No country has reported an increased rate of recipient infection due to changes in blood donation policy. The one year is not arbitrary but based on extensive research. As previously stated, there is only a two week window period between HIV infection and detection through today’s tests. We are advocating for a 1 year, or 52 week, deferral period to be absolutely certain beyond any reasonable doubt that no HIV+ blood is transfused to those in need.
At the time of its conception, in the height of the AIDS scare, the lack of information deemed this ban necessary. Today, however, it is outdated and unreasonable.