(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Friday it will ease blood donation restrictions on gay and bisexual men, allowing those in monogamous relationships to donate.
The policy change comes after years of urging by public health experts, blood banks and LGBTQ advocacy groups. The new policy would address future blood shortages and remove the stigma around gay men, experts say.
Additionally, the American Red Cross and the American Medical Association have both supported a risk-based approach to donor eligibility.
“Whether it’s for someone involved in a car accident, or for an individual with a life-threatening illness, blood donations save lives every day,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf. “Maintaining a safe and adequate supply of blood and blood products in the U.S. is paramount for the FDA, and this proposal for an individual risk assessment, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, will enable us to continue using the best science to do so.”
Rather than a blanket ban due to sexual orientation, the relaxation of the rule would screen potential donors on their risk of contracting and transmitting HIV.
In 1985, in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, the FDA banned all blood donations from men who have sex with men.
The policy did not change until 2015, when rules were slightly relaxed to allow this group of donors to give blood as long as they abstained from sex for one year. In 2020, amid severe blood shortages during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA shortened the abstinence period to 90 days.
The policy change means gay and bisexual men in monogamous relationships can donate without abstaining from sex as long as they test HIV negative and are practicing safe sex.
It also means the U.S. will join several Western countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Greece and the Netherlands, which have recently either dropped bans or eased restrictions.
Last month, the FDA told ABC News the evidence analyzed so far will “likely support a policy transition” that focuses screening blood donations based on each person’s HIV risk.
In 2020, the FDA launched a study called ADVANCE to look into alternative solutions to its current policy. The FDA is currently reviewing research from the American Red Cross, OneBlood and Vitalant to determine if eligibility based on an individual’s risk can replace the current time-based deferral system while maintaining the safety of the blood supply.
Experts say the updated policy will also help address the national blood shortage and, in turn, save lives. In January 2022, the American Red Cross said it was facing its worst blood shortage in more than a decade, although it is no longer in a crisis.
Despite the easing of rules, non-monogamous men are not allowed to donate even if they produce a negative HIV test, practice safe sex with condoms or take pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP — a daily pill containing two medications that prevent HIV-negative patients from being infected.
ABC News’ Sony Salzman and Kiara Alfonseca contributed to this report.
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