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Higgins renews push to drop 'discriminatory' blood donation restrictions


Mon, Feb 28th 2022 03:55 pm

Congress members say FDA policy ‘needlessly stigmatizes LGBTQ+ community & limits national blood supply’

√ FDA agrees to reexamine policy 

Congressman Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, is among the members of Congress calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to end its policy which, they said, “discriminates against members of the LGBTQ+ community who wish to donate blood.”

In a letter sent to the FDA, Higgins and 145 additional members of Congress write, “The current policy is overly stringent given the scientific evidence, advanced testing methods, and safety and quality control measures within FDA-qualified blood donation centers; stigmatizes members of the LGBTQI+ community; and needlessly restricts the blood supply while our nation combats a critical blood shortage and the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A spokesperson with the FDA confirmed this week the agency is reviewing existing blood donation restrictions and looking at developing more individualized risk assessments.

Higgins’ team said, “In 1983, during the initial wave of the AIDS epidemic and before there was a good understanding of the disease, the FDA implemented a policy which banned blood and plasma donations from men who have sex with men (MSM). Since then, the FDA has revised the guideline twice, first changing the lifetime ban to a 12-month deferral from last same-sex sexual contact, and in April of 2020 changing it to a three-month deferral. All donated blood and plasma is tested for HIV, hepatitis, COVID-19 and other infectious diseases before it is deemed acceptable and released to hospitals.”

Matthew Crehan Higgins, associate vice president of specialty care at Evergreen Health, the leading HIV service organization in Western New York, said, “The FDA introduced the blood ban when very little was known about HIV transmission and how to prevent it. We now know the possibility of transmitting the virus to others can be eliminated through frequent testing and use of modern prevention methods. While the blood ban was well intentioned in the 1980s, it is now arbitrary and discriminatory and it places our entire community at risk, by holding back ready, willing and able blood donors at a time when the national blood supply is at an all-time low.”

Jordan James, founder of BloodisBlood.org, said, "The FDA'S three-month MSM deferral period is blatantly hurting the American people. As the founder of Blood is Blood, a nonprofit that holds ‘Blood Is Blood’ blood drives in an attempt to raise awareness of this arbitrary policy, I see time and time again that the LGBTQ community wants to help but simply cannot because of this unjust and outdated FDA policy. Leaving policies like this in place remind us we still have a long way to go for LGBTQ people in America, and how outdated views can affect us all.”

Higgins added, “The FDA’s own unnecessary policies are unjustified and blocking the opportunity for generous people to contribute to the blood supply, which is life-saving for so many. It’s time to end this once and for all.”

In their letter, the Congress members point out that the U.S. policy is more restrictive than other countries that have successfully dropped similar restraints: “At least 17 countries, including Spain, have no restrictions on MSM blood donation. Additionally, in June 2021, the United Kingdom ended its three-month blood donation deferral period for MSM and implemented a donation eligibility policy based on individual risk. These nations prove that an individual risk assessment that does not stigmatize members of the LGBTQI+ community is sufficient to screen blood donors and protect our nation’s blood supply.”

Higgins is a member of the House LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and has been a longtime supporter of ending the policy, joining advocates both in Washington, D.C., and locally in Western New York to fight for change.

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