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FDA relaxes 30-year ban on blood donations by gay men

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is relaxing its 30-year ban on blood donations from gay men and will instead require a 12-month waiting period.

The decision to lift the lifetime ban, which was put in place in the 1980s, follows an FDA review to determine "appropriate changes" based on the most recent scientific evidence. It follows similar changes in other countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia, where a move to a 12-month deferral period has not caused an increase in HIV transmission rates.

"In reviewing our policies to help reduce the risk of HIV transmission through blood products, we rigorously examined several alternative options, including individual risk assessment," said Peter Marks, the deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “Ultimately, the 12-month deferral window is supported by the best available scientific evidence, at this point in time, relevant to the U.S. population. We will continue to actively conduct research in this area and further revise our policies as new data emerge."

The lifetime ban was sometimes perceived as discriminatory towards gay men, and activists have long called for the ban to be lifted after advances in donor testing reduced the HIV transmission rate from blood transfusion from 1 in 2,500 to 1 in 1.47 million. But despite these advances, it often takes several weeks from the time of infection for HIV to show up in a blood test.

Under the new policy, men wanting to donate blood will have to wait at least 12 months after having sex with another man, regardless of whether a condom was used.

According to the U.S. government, more than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with an HIV infection, and an estimated 12.8 percent are unaware of their infection. Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, and particularly young black men who have sex with men, are most commonly affected by HIV. As such, the FDA's policy bars blood donations from men who have sex with men, and not a specific sexual identity.

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