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The FDA Just Loosened Restrictions On Gay Men Donating Blood During The Pandemic, But It's Still Preventing Many From Offering Life-Saving Help

The FDA Just Loosened Restrictions On Gay Men Donating Blood During The Pandemic, But It's Still Preventing Many From Offering Life-Saving Help
Pavel Peskov / EyeEm, via Getty Images

Nobody can become a doctor or nurse overnight.

But key resources like blood and antibodies offer folks a chance to help during the pandemic.

Gay men, however, have found that their options are limited.

A 1983 law—passed in the heart of the AIDS crisis in the U.S.—placed a lifetime ban on blood donation for any man who has ever had sex with another man. The ostensible purpose was to keep HIV out of the blood supply.

The law was updated in 2015, slightly. The replacement regulation still bars any man who's had sex with another man from donating blood for one year after sex took place.

In other words, if you're a gay man and want to donate blood, you have to be celibate for a year. Despite statistics about the groups with the highest rates of new HIV and AIDS diagnoses, no other group is under such restrictions on their sexual intimacy.

NBC News reports the law faced newfound scrutiny as the overtaxed medical community requires blood and antibodies from as many people as possible.

The ignited criticism stemmed from the value of what is called "convalescent plasma therapy." Basically, if someone beats the virus and comes out healthy on the other end, that person is brimming with strong antibodies.

That person can then turn around and donate their plasma—full of those antibodies—to a person whose own body can't produce them. The deferment on blood and plasma donations from actively sexual gay men would knock out a significant amount of potential good antibodies in the medical community's toolbox.

For this very reason, 15 U.S. Senators called on the FDA to replace the deferment restrictions with ones based on "scientifically sound, based on individual risk, and inclusive of all potential healthy blood donors." The 1983 law and the update have long faced criticism as the restriction was based on public reaction and not scientific or medical data or recommendations.

Besides lawmakers, LGBTQ activist groups again called for change as well.

One such group, GLAAD, pulled no punches in its statement on the issue:

"By restricting gay and bisexual men, and other LGBTQ people, who have recovered from [the virus] from donating plasma, the FDA is severely limiting the health care industry's ability to explore potentially lifesaving treatment for [the virus]."

Twitter couldn't believe the restriction either.

In response, the FDA reportedly loosened the restrictions to three months as opposed to a year, a clear indication that enough voices crying out have pushed the needle.

However, a restriction still exists. Limitations for gay men to help are clearly not gone.

The book The Epidemic: A Global History of AIDSis available here.