White Oak, Maryland – On Monday the Food and Drug Administration announced the update of the blood donor deferral policy following scientific evidence in order to guarantee the safety of the U.S blood supply. The agency explained that “men who have sex with other men” can now donate blood if they have not been involved in sexual relations in the past 12 months prior donating.

In the last 33 years gay or bisexual men weren’t able to make donations and several people stressed that it was a form of discrimination. In a press release the FDA declared they updated the donor deferral policy while they seek to reduce the number of immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission by blood and blood products.

The agency wrote it was its responsibility to maintain a high level of blood product safety for people whose lives depend on it. Results from previous regulations made by the FDA would appear to show that HIV transmission rates from blood transfusion have been reduced from 1 in 2,500 to 1 in 1.47 million.

Some are critics about the celibacy requirement for gay blood donors. Credit: The Daily Beast

That being said the FDA changed its recommendations, from now on “men who have sex with men” will be able to help people by donating their blood, but exclusively if they haven’t have sexual contact with another men in the last year, similar measures have been taken in countries such as Australia and in the United Kingdom.

The policies relating to blood donations also changed for people with hemophilia, which is a rare bleeding disorder in which the blood doesn’t clot normally, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Previously, hemophiliacs were deferred because it was thought that recipients could had an increased risk of HIV transmission, now they will still be deferred but in order to protect them of being harmed by the long needles used in the donation process.

Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research said:

“In reviewing our policies to help reduce the risk of HIV transmission through blood products, we rigorously examined several alternative options, including individual risk assessment. Ultimately, the best available scientific evidence supports the 12-month deferral window, at this point in time, relevant to the U.S. population. We will continue to actively conduct research in this area and further revise our policies as new data emerge.”

Controversy related to the new recommendations

The National Gay Blood Drive, which is a group that has criticized the measures taken by the FDA in the previous years, encouraged people in a statement published on Monday to push the agency to move toward a deferral based upon individual risk assessment.

“We are pleased to see the FDA has issued the final guidance and we support this initial policy change that will allow gay and bisexual men to donate for the first time in 33 years. However, the revised policy is still discriminatory. While gay and bisexual men will be eligible to donate their blood and help save lives under this 12 month deferral, countless more will continue to be banned solely on the basis of their sexual orientation and without medical or scientific reasoning,” they wrote.

A study published in 2010 by the Williams Institute from the University of California at Los Angeles calculated that if all gay men could donate blood, the annual supply of donated blood would be increased by 2 to 4 percent, which means about 615,000 pints per year. However, with the new 12-month deferral the number is reduced to 317,000 pints a year, an amount that still seems considerable.

Blood facts and statistics in the U.S

According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. In total more than 41,000 blood donations are needed every day. It appears that a single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood, so in order to prevent a blood loss, the blood used in an emergency is already on the shelves before the event occurs, wrote the humanitarian movement in its official webpage.

That being said, the number of blood donors in the U.S. in a year reaches nearly 9.2 million, which is extremely helpful since more than 1.6 million people were diagnosed with cancer last year and many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during their chemotherapy treatment, wrote the Red Cross, who explained the donation process consists of a few simple steps: registration, medical history and mini-physical, donation and refreshments.

Source: Food and Drug Administration