While the two organizations said they were grateful for the revisions, they said the policy didn’t go far enough, especially in light of ongoing national blood shortages and lack of evidence these donors posed more danger. that others.
“The pandemic has rightly prompted an increased effort to educate the public about the importance of science as it relates to health care,” said a statement signed by Carole Allen, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, and Sean Cahill, director of health policy. research at the Fenway Institute, the research and policy arm of Fenway Health. “Scientific advances have greatly improved blood screening and there remains no evidence to suggest that including men who have sex with men in the pool of available blood donors poses an increased risk of adverse effects for patients who need it.”
A revised policy would improve individual screening of people with ask potential donors about high-risk behaviors rather than relying solely on sexual orientation. Such a policy would be in line with new guidelines from the UK, France, Argentina and Brazil.
The calls come amid what the Red Cross has called the worst national blood shortage in a decade. In January, the organization declared its first-ever blood crisis.
According to the Red Cross, overall blood donations in the United States have decreased by 10% since March 2020, both because of concerns about organizing blood drives during the pandemic and also because blood drives middle and high schools have been on lockdown during the pandemic, as many campuses have gone virtual. Although student donors made up 25% of donors in 2019, during the pandemic they fell to just 10%.
The problem has become so severe that the state’s largest health care system, Mass General Brigham, recently created a policy on how it could ration blood if levels fall below critical levels, and instituted new policies to share blood throughout the system and try to reduce demand.
While blood shortages are no longer as worrisome to Mass General Brigham as they were during Omicron’s push, system officials have also advocated for individualized risk assessments.
“Mass Gen. Brigham recognizes the complexity of this subject and the pain and deep hurt that discriminatory practices have caused members of the LGBTQ community,” said Dr. Paul Biddinger, Medical Director of Emergency Preparedness at Mass General Brigham.
“We deeply support all efforts to better individualize HIV risk assessment in potential blood donors, and encourage the FDA and other national agencies to fund and support this research so that we can ensure that no low-risk person be unfairly barred from donating our nation’s blood supply,” Biddinger added.
The Human Rights Campaign, one of the The nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gay civil rights organization also pushed for an individual risk assessment policy and urged the FDA to update its questionnaire in January.
The Massachusetts Medical Society, which has 25,000 members, has been advocating for such a change for years, with an internal policy since 2006 calling for blood donation bans or deferrals to be applied to donors based on their level of risk. individual and not their sexual orientation. The organization also pushed the federal government to end its lifetime ban on donations by gay and bisexual men in 2012.
The MMS has also been at the forefront of policy changes in the past. In 2020, the organization adopted a policy recognizing cannabis as a medical therapy – a dramatic departure from what were previously prescriptive requirements for doctors to recommend cannabis.
Cahill, of the Fenway Institute, has been advocating for such changes around blood donation for over a decade. More recently, he published an op-ed with Harvard Medical School student Amitai Miller in the New England Journal of Medicine in October, calling for policy change.
Blood donations from gay and bisexual men are particularly relevant to Fenway Health, which said half of its 35,000 patients are from the LGBTQIA+ community.
“It’s a policy that was put in place 37 years ago,” Cahill said. “That is not the appropriate policy for today.”