Red Cross expands blood donation access for men who have sex with men

The Red Cross on Monday implemented the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) updated blood donation guidance focusing on individual risk factors and aiming to reduce restrictions on men who have sex with men.

“The American Red Cross is now welcoming more donors into its lifesaving mission through updated FDA blood donation eligibility guidelines that eliminate longstanding broad, time-based deferrals based on sexual orientation,” the Red Cross said in a statement.

Blood donations to the Red Cross account for about 40 percent of all U.S. blood and blood components.

In May, the FDA issued new guidance that recommended “individual risk-based questions” for all donors regardless of sexual orientation, sex or gender. The agency’s prior restrictions barred men who have sex with men from donating blood unless they abstained from sex with another man for three months prior to donating.

The new guidance forgoes time-based restrictions and instead would defer any prospective donors who report having a new sexual partner, more than one sexual partner and having anal sex with said partners in the past three months.

Individuals taking PrEP for HIV prevention will also be deferred due to concerns that the medications may result in false negatives for viral detection. This rule drew scrutiny from stakeholders in the LGBTQ community, though experts acknowledged the technology used to screen blood may not yet be comprehensive enough to allow those on PrEP to donate.

The FDA stated these recommendations are in line with “the best available scientific evidence” and reflected how other countries like the U.K. and Canada regulate blood donations.

Under the guidance, monogamous individuals who are not on PrEP and who engage in anal sex with only their monogamous partner should be permitted to donate blood. These new guidelines mean that heterosexual individuals may now also be deferred from donating blood if they report having anal sex with one or more new partners three months before donating.

“The Red Cross celebrates this historic move as significant progress and remains committed to achieving an inclusive blood donation process that treats all potential donors with equality and respect while maintaining the safety of the blood supply,” said the organization.

Fellow blood donation group America’s Blood Centers, which provides almost 60 percent of all blood and blood products in the U.S., similarly welcomed the updated guidance when it was announced in May but has yet to set a date for when it will make the shift.

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