Just last month, the American Red Cross declared the first national blood crisis in the nation’s history. The Red Cross shockingly said “as much as one-quarter of hospital needs are not being met.” Yet, as the current policies stand, members of the LGBTQIA+ population can not give blood to help their fellow man.
In its most recent recommendations, the FDA has recommended that the DHQ or Donor History Questionnaire for blood donation services include policies that “defer for 3 months from the most recent sexual contact, a man who has had sex with another man during the past 3 months” and “a female who has had sex during the past 3 months with a man who had sex with another man in the past 3 months.”
These recommendations are with a cluster of others that caution against donors with a history of HIV and having “sex for money or drugs.”
Make no mistake, these recommendations are from a systemic belief that all MSM (men who have sex with men) have HIV and are “dirty.” However, science has demonstrated that HIV is not “dirty” and does not only impact MSM. We need to destigmatize homosexual sex and HIV because it quite literally can cost us.
The FDA’s decision to alter these recommendations concerning MSM blood donation from a lifetime ban (in 1985) to 12 months (in 2015) and to 3 months (in 2020) prompts the question: why the change in eligibility?
The New York Times reported that the recent shortage in the national blood supply came after the first wave of COVID-19. In the spring of 2020, amidst the takeover of COVID-19, the FDA updated its recommendations to from a one year deferral period to just three months for MSM blood donations. This action only implies that the FDA and the federal government only cares about sexual minorities when they can contribute something to society.
Not only are these recommendations further stigmatizing members of the LGBTQIA+ population, it also comes at a cost to the broader public. Blood donations are essential to patients’ lives and the shortage of supply can be dangerous. Perhaps even more detrimental to our nation is the discrimination of whole groups of people.
The FDA, as the Human Rights Campaign has encouraged, must measure individual risk of blood donors instead of discriminating against entire communities of people waiting to donate their blood.
We have advanced technologies in medicine to measure individual risk and this three month ban is an arbitrary period. According to the CDC, labs can measure HIV 10 to 33 days post-exposure. Further, an individual risk based assessment has already been done in other parts of the world. A 2015 Argentinian study found that this individual-risk approach found “no significant difference of HIV prevalence in blood donations.”
We must ask ourselves: are we willing to lose patients’ lives because of long-held societal views of the LGBTQIA+ population meanwhile endorsing prejudicial policies that do not meet the promises of this country?
Now more than ever we need to address the social ills within our institutions because the consequences are too great. America is running out of blood and her promises of equal protection in the eyes of the law are not being kept. We must do something about it.
Jon Andre Parrilla is a first year MPH student at the Yale School of Public Health in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences.