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Gay Men's Health Crisis calls for Risk-Based Screening for Blood Donors at FDA Meeting

One Year Ban Would Still Discriminate Against Low-Risk Gay Men
12.2.2014

For Immediate Release
December 2, 2014
Media Contact:    
Anthony Hayes | 646-591-4893| anthonyh@gmhc.org

WASHINGTON D.C. - Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) is scheduled to testify this afternoon at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) meeting on lifting the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood in America. GMHC advocates for the FDA to replace its lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men blood donors with objective assessment of all prospective donors based on behaviors that place them at high risk for HIV infection.
 
In 2010, GMHC released A Drive for Change: Reforming U.S. Blood Donation Policies a report that concluded that screening procedures that identify whether all prospective donors are low- or high-risk would yield more accurate results.
 
GMHC's statement to be read at FDA meeting this afternoon will reassert GMHC's position on deferrals based on behavior vs sexual orientation or gender identity.
 
Key Points:

  • While the proposed change from a lifetime ban to a 12-month deferral is a step forward, it does not go far enough.
  • Any deferral based on a sexual orientation label - MSM, gay, or bisexual - still perpetuates the harmful and unscientific notion that HIV is transmitted because of who you are, rather than what you do.
  • Will the FDA require heterosexuals to be abstinent for one year, regardless of assessing their risk for HIV?
  • For example, two legally married, HIV-negative, gay men who participate in low-risk behavior are STILL banned for life under this proposed policy, while a similar straight couple could still be eligible to donate.
  • We must stop reacting to HIV like it is the early 1980s, when our country assumed it was a "gay disease."
  • With the FDA's help, we can keep our blood supply safe through policy and practice rooted in science, without perpetuating the stigma and discrimination still driving this epidemic.

FULL STATEMENT:
 
GMHC is committed to partnering with the FDA to ensure that U.S. blood donation policy not only prevents transmission-related infections, but also stops perpetuating the stigma and discrimination driving the HIV epidemic, particularly among gay and bisexual men and transgender people.
 
This is why we advocate for a system that screens all donors - gay or straight - based on high-risk practices that could lead to HIV infection, implemented along with a robust Transfusion-Transmissible Infections Monitoring System (TTIMS).
 
While the proposed change from a lifetime ban to a 12-month deferral is a step forward, it does not go far enough.
 
Any deferral based on a sexual orientation label - MSM, gay, or bisexual - still perpetuates the harmful and unscientific notion that HIV is transmitted because of who you are, rather than what you do.
 
For the overwhelming majority of gay and bisexual men, donation policy that requires 12 months of abstinence is a de facto lifetime ban.
 
Do you require heterosexuals to be abstinent for one year, regardless of assessing their risk for HIV?
 
This step forward still bans gay and bisexual men who routinely engage in low-risk behavior - men who would otherwise be eligible to donate if they happened to be heterosexual.
 
For example, two legally married, HIV-negative, gay men who participate in low-risk behavior are STILL banned for life under this proposed policy, while a similar straight couple could still be eligible to donate.
 
Of course, the FDA does not require marriage or monogamy from heterosexual donors, yet a gay man who routinely uses condoms and has not had sexual contact with someone who is HIV positive - another example of low-risk behavior - is still banned for life.
 
While data presented on Australia's donor policy at the HHS Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability (ACBTSA) meeting on November 13th supports the proposed 12-month deferral in the U.S., neither the FDA or HHS has acknowledged that you are considering a policy already implemented for 14 years in Australia - one that has also already been implemented in Argentina, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Sweden, Japan, and the UK.
 
Italy and several other countries have even implemented a risk-based assessment similar to what GMHC advocates, and we now have good data from Italy showing that its number of HIV-positive donors did not increase disproportionately.
 
What does this say about HIV stigma and discrimination against gay and bisexual men in the United States?
 
Does America's commitment to human rights exclude being a world leader in scientifically advanced, safe, and non-discriminatory public health policy?
 
GMHC recognizes that the U.S. has a unique history and experience with HIV, which includes the tragedy of transfusion-related HIV infections in the early days of the epidemic.
 
Every hot and nutritious meal GMHC serves, every mental health counseling session we provide, every person we connect to lifesaving anti-retrovirals, and so many other critical, life-saving programs supported by funding named for Ryan White, reminds us that HIV prevention includes ensuring that our blood supply and blood products are safe.
 
Likewise, every day we see the growing concentration of new infections among gay, bisexual and transgender youth - particularly youth of color
 
The CDC recently announced that from 2002 until 2011 new infections among MSM ages 13 to 24 grew by 133 percent.
 
This is also a reminder to us - and this committee - that we must support policy that address the complex etiology of HIV transmission in this country, including the stigma and discrimination driving new infections among gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
 
With respect and gratitude for the work you have supported so far, GMHC urges that a shift to blood donation policy that requires gay and bisexual men to be abstinent for 12 months should be just one more - albeit important - step in the journey to a risk-based donor screening system, one that is focused on behavior that can lead to HIV transmission and that is blind to the sexual orientation label of the donor.
 
We must stop reacting to HIV like it is the early 1980s, when our country assumed it was a "gay disease."
 
With your help, we can keep our blood supply safe through policy and practice rooted in science, without perpetuating the stigma and discrimination still driving this epidemic.

 
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Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) is the nation's leading provider of HIV/AIDS care, prevention services and advocacy, serving nearly 9,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in New York City, the epidemic's largest U.S. epicenter. As the world's first HIV and AIDS service organization GMHC is an expert in providing services that every person affected by the epidemic deserves. GMHC is on the front lines caring for people who are both HIV negative and positive, including: testing, nutrition, legal, mental health and education services. GMHC also advocates for stronger public policies at the local, state and federal level with the goal of ending AIDS as an epidemic in New York State by 2020. Most recently, GMHC and other HIV/AIDS organizations successfully persuaded the federal government to recommend widespread use of PrEP, a new daily treatment that is over 90% effective in preventing HIV infection. For more information, visit www.gmhc.org.

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