LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Change blood donation rules for men who have sex with men

It is well known that 20% of gay men are HIV-positive and that 25% of HIV-positive people are unaware of their positive status. This means that roughly 5% of gay men are HIV-positive and they don't even know it.

This is even more alarming when you consider that POZ reported that in "the U.S., an estimated 50% of new infections come from the 25% of positive people who do not know their status ..."

As a member of the LGBT community, I say that it is imperative that we treat HIV with the attention the issue demands. Caution and regular testing are the best course of action, but unfortunately, the latter can be too expensive for some. However, a solution can be found within a recently started petition which proposes that men who have slept with men (MSM) are an untapped source of willing blood donors. Before you dismiss this idea, hear me out.

In 1983, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed its policy to forbid blood banks from accepting donations from MSM. At the time, their reasoning was sound: It was a reaction to the AIDS scare of the 1980s, and their concern was that HIV would be introduced into blood stores and subsequently transferred into patients receiving infusions.

Fortunately, this no longer the threat it once was. Medical science has come a long way in HIV detection – tests are now available to detect the presence of HIV in as little as 10 days after exposure. Presumably, it is these modern testing techniques that were being referred to when the FDA and Stanford Blood Center stated that they routinely test all donated blood for HIV 1 and 2 using two separate testing techniques.

The FDA’s concern over HIV was completely warranted in the ‘80s. However, FDA policy is lagging behind technology, and does not seem to recognize the advances that have been made. Changing the policy to only a one-year deferral after the last “MSM” encounter would be more than four times the amount of time necessary for HIV to reach levels detectable by most testing methods, which renders the FDA’s concern a moot point. Because HIV status can be determined very accurately by the one-year mark, those who donate and test negative can save up to three lives with their donation. Should the donor test positive for HIV, the donation center will inform them so that they can begin to take steps to prevent the spread of the virus early on.

Early detection, as readers should know, can prolong life, increase their standard of living and allow people to live the lives as they were meant to live.

Please, join us in letting the FDA know that it is no longer time to react to HIV as if the last 30 years of advances in medical science haven’t happened. This is effectively a way for Americans to get a free full panel STD test, to know their status and to avoid spreading the virus. So please sign the petition at and let your voice be heard.

(Michael Hernandez is currently a master in business administration student at the University of Oklahoma. He is the originator of the petition to allow gay men the right to donate blood on change.org. For more information about the petition he has authored, please visit the website listed above or the petition information website.

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