CINCINNATI -- For more than 30 years, gay and bisexual men have been banned from donating potentially life-saving blood, but on Friday the University of Cincinnati's Hoxworth Blood Center is planning to host a National Gay Blood Drive to encourage a push for change.
Men who have had sex with other men, even one time, since 1977, are strictly prohibited from donating due to the 1983 "lifetime deferral" implemented by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the FDA.
The FDA says the policy based on this group of men being at an increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and other infections that can be transmitted by a blood transfusion.
The No. 1 priority of the FDA, according to the agency, is to assure the safety of patients who receive the blood and because of the increased risk from those with male-to-male contact, blood from those donors is not accepted.
But due to scientific advances, screening for safe blood has improved dramatically since the ban was imposed 31 years ago, said Dr. Ronald Sacher, director of Hoxworth Blood Center.
"It's quite apparent that over the years, with the improvement of the safety of the blood supply, that perhaps these policies need to be revisited, and that's the momentum to re-look at the policies," Sacher said.
AABB, America's Blood Centers and American Red Cross (ARC), made a joint statement to the FDA in 2006 saying the deferral of blood from gay men is unjustified. It's a position that Hoxworth also supports, Sacher said.
The groups stated their belief "that the current lifetime deferral for men who have had sex with other men is medically and scientifically unwarranted” and recommended that the deferral criteria “be modified and made comparable with criteria for other groups at increased risk for sexual transmission of transfusion-transmitted infections.”
They recommended that the FDA amend the indefinite ban currently in place to a 12-month deferral. This would be the same deferral period for others who are at an increased risk of sexual behavior.
"For example, the current deferral period for individuals who have had sexual contact with an individual with HIV or viral hepatitis is 12 months. There is no sound scientific justification for these different deferral periods. AABB, America’s Blood Centers and ARC believe that the time is overdue for a change," according to the groups.
The organization Gay Men's Health Crisis says the lifetime ban "supports a false perception that heterosexual people are at low risk for HIV infection, while allowing individuals who participate in high-risk behavior, but who do not identify as gay or bisexual, to donate blood."
A reduction in the availability of blood and the reinforcement of negative stereotypes about gay and bisexual people are also major concerns the organization names.
Life-saving blood transfusions are needed in hospitals across the United States every day. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate about 5 million patients receive blood annually, a total of 14.6 million transfusions per year.
Here, the Greater Cincinnati region must import blood from other places to meet its needs, Sacher said. Allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood could help the region produce the blood it needs to be more self-sufficient, he said.
On Friday, July 11, UC's Hoxworth Blood Center will take part in a nationwide movement that encourages gay and bisexual men to bring friends, family and supporters from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community to donate blood in proxy for them. Gay and bisexual men will not donate blood themselves, since that is still prohibited under the current policies. But eligible donors will give blood on their behalf.
Highland Heights resident Josh Neumeyer is coordinator for the Cincinnati drive. Neumeyer said he donated blood regularly in college. But once he became sexually active as a gay man, he had to stop.
"It's something I feel strongly about," Neumeyer said. "I would gladly give again if I could."
Neumeyer said he hopes the blood drive Friday will draw attention to the issue and will help Hoxworth with much-needed donations. He has two friends who work with him at Northern Kentucky University who will be donating blood on his behalf.
In addition to donating blood, donors will be signing a petition against the FDA policy, which will be sent to the White House. The goal is to collect 100,000 signatures by the end of July, said Alecia Lipton, Hoxworth's community relations manager. People can sign the petition online even without donating.
The blood drive will run from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Hoxworth Building, 3130 Highland Ave., fourth floor.
For more information, contact Neumeyer at Neumeyer.JR@gmail.com or 513-304-2021.
Appointments are strongly encouraged by calling (513) 451-0910 or by visiting www.hoxworth.org . Walk-in donors are welcome.