Gay men are still banned for life from giving blood, “leaving in place — for now — a 1983 prohibition meant to prevent the spread of HIV through transfusions.” The Food and Drug Administration’s ban prevents an estimated 62,300 gay and bisexual men per year from donating blood, despite the Red Cross calling the policy “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”
On its website, the FDA attempts to justify the 24-year-old rule by arguing that current HIV testing cannot always pick up right away when someone is HIV positive:
The ‘window period’ exists very early after infection, where even current HIV testing methods cannot detect all infections. During this time, a person is infected with HIV, but may not have made enough virus or developed enough antibodies to be detected by available tests. For this reason, a person could test negative, even when they are actually HIV positive and infectious.
Therefore FDA would change this policy only if supported by scientific data showing that a change in policy would not present a significant and preventable risk to blood recipients.
Yet last year, the Red Cross, the international blood association AABB, and America’s Blood Centers all called on the FDA to reverse the ban. They explained that such “window period” risks have been negated by modern blood tests, which “can detect HIV-positive donors within just 10 to 21 days of infection.” To ensure such risks were minimized further, their proposal included a “one-year deferral following male-to-male sexual contact.”