By Sola Ogundipe

Gay men will be able to donate blood one year after their last sexual contact, if indications from the US Food and Drug Administration are anything to go by, under a proposal that will be introduced this year to end a ban that has been in place since 1983.

Reports say there is scientific evidence that the move will not create risks for national blood supply, and the policy change is expected to boost the supply of donated blood by hundreds of thousands of pints per year.

Blood donations from gay men have been barred since the discovery that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was being transmitted through transfusions. The American Medical Association had earlier voted to oppose the ban. The FDA said the move aligns the policy for gay men with that for other men and women at increased risk for HIV infection.

In a statement, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg noted: “The FDA has carefully examined and considered the available scientific evidence relevant to its blood donor deferral policy for men who have sex with men, including the results of several recently completed scientific studies and recent epidemiologic data.”

A draft guidance on the policy, is expected to be issued early this year, following which the Agency would review the comments and issue final guidance “as quickly as possible,” Peter Marks, Deputy Director of the FDA’s Centre for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told the press at a briefing.

An FDA advisory committee met in December to discuss issues around changing the policy, such as the effectiveness of new blood supply tests for HIV infections. The FDA stopped short of eliminating the ban for gay men altogether. Marks said during the briefing that scientific evidence for a ban shorter than a year was not “compelling.”

Last September, the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law at the University of California, Los Angeles, hinted that eliminating the ban would bring in 615,300 pints of blood annually, while a one-year deferral would bring in 317,000 pints of blood.

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