“We’re moving from stigma to science”: FDA funding study on restrictions on blood donation by gay, bisexual men
DELMARVA – The United States Food and Drug Administration made a historic announcement: it’s funding a study that could lead to the removal of longtime restrictions around blood donations by gay or bisexual men.
“So we’re moving from stigma to science based now and I’m real excited but we’ve got a whole year to wait before this study comes to a final report. It’s involving the American Red Cross. It’s involving three or four companies that deal with blood donation or the technology,” says Salvatore Seeley, the Health & Wellness Program Director at CAMP Rehoboth. “I know the wheels of this go rather slowly because we’re talking about since the 80s there’s been this policy in place. So it takes time for people to evolve into different ways of thought.”
Currently, sexually active gay or bisexual men must be abstinent for at least three months before they’re allowed to donate blood. “Last year they made it one year that men who have sex with men had to be abstinent. Then because of COVID and because there was a lack of donations and because plasma played and important part in the recovery, they changed it to three months. But unfortunately even with that, they are still basing decisions on stigma rather than science,” says Seeley.
“It doesn’t necessarily matter if you intended to donate blood or not. Just the fact that you are aware there’s discriminatory legislation that bars your participation in something like this is enough to cause mental health issues to increase in people,” says Dr. Michele Schlehofer, a Salisbury University Professor of Psychology and Board Member of PFLAG Salisbury.
When the FDA first enacted the policy, during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s, it was actually a lifetime ban because of a lack of scientific understanding and stigma. “When HIV first hit, technologies weren’t there to detect HIV in blood. Then of course people were freaked out that, ‘Oh my god. If I get blood from someone who is gay, I’m going to get HIV,'” says Seeley.
Some poeple tell 47 ABC, if the ban is removed, the LGBTQ community may still be cautious after being stigmatized this way but some hope people can look beyond that. “Look at the big picture here and look at the time common goal of being able to be a leader in your community and to be a positive role model,” says Mark DeLancey, the Executive Director of PFLAG Salisbury.
Meanwhile, CAMP Rehoboth hopes they may be able to participate in the data collection of the study as it moves forward. “(The FDA is) asking over three hundred to four hundred LGBTQ community centers, and I hope CAMP Rehoboth is part of that, to collect and assess information from primarily mostly men who have sex with men,” says Seeley. “It’s definitely progress and I think the important thing to remember is equality.”
47 ABC reached out to the Blood Bank of Delmarva about this announcement and they responded with the following statement:
Blood Bank of Delmarva applauds the FDA for this newly launched study. Separately, Blood Bank of Delmarva is participating in research with the goal of permitting individual risk assessments for all potential blood donors, regardless of their sexual orientation. We will continue to advocate for evidence-based changes to federal policies as additional data becomes available. Expanding the number of eligible donors is crucial to maintaining an adequate blood supply during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
The first-of-its-kind pilot study aims to gather and present data to the FDA for review by late 2021. This comes after the United Kingdom announced on Monday that it would lift its ban and implement changes by summer 2021.