The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

September 16, 2013

Despite pressure, ban on gay blood donors endures

(Continued)

"We do not think HHS is moving fast enough," said Jason Cianciotto of Gay Men's Health Crisis, a New York-based nonprofit engaged in AIDS prevention and care.

Cianciotto said the ban "perpetuates the stigma that gay and bisexual men are dangerous to public health," and thus undercuts efforts to combat HIV.

The FDA says its policy is not intended as a judgment on donors' sexual orientation, and instead is based on the documented risk of blood infections, such as HIV, associated with male-to-male sex.

According to the FDA, men who have had sex with other men represent about 2 percent of the U.S. population, yet accounted for at least 61 percent of all new HIV infections in the U.S. in 2010.

The FDA implemented the ban in 1983, when health officials were first recognizing the risk of contracting AIDS via blood transfusions. Under the policy, blood donations are barred from any man who has had sex with another man at any time since 1977 — the start of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S.

Critics say the policy has been rendered obsolete by advances in testing which can which can detect HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — within days of infection.

Some critics say the lifetime ban could be replaced with a policy barring blood donations on the basis of gay sex within the past 12 months, or the past five years — as Canada recently decided to do. Others say there should be no set time periods, and that the screenings — as in Spain and Italy — should focus on high-risk behaviors of both gay and straight people, while making it easier for gays in monogamous, safe-sex relationships to qualify as donors.

"It's very personal to a lot of people who would like to donate and yet are barred while knowing themselves not to be at risk," said Brian Moulton, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group.

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