Red Cross Favors Amending Blood Donation Policy by Gay and Bisexual Men

The FDA maintains that gay and bisexual men should not be allowed to donate blood, but the Red Cross believes there should only be a 12 month deferral
August 10, 2012 -- The American Red Cross is reporting a shortage of blood donations nationwide, with a local chapter campaigning aggressively to get more people in to give. It's not uncommon for donations to dip below baseline during the summer months, said Daphne Mathew, communications manager for the Pacific Northwest Blood Services department of the American Red Cross. The Red Cross monitors how much blood it receives in donations daily, and compares those numbers with its baseline needs – about 1,000 units of blood per week – to determine whether it has a shortage, Mathew said. The baseline goes up during natural disasters or other large-scale emergencies when blood banks calculate that they’ll need a larger supply. One reason is that school is out of session: high school and college students give about 20 percent of blood donated during drives and at fixed donor locations, Mathew said. Summer travel also typically has an effect, and so can the timing of holidays: the fact that the fourth of July fell during midweek this year also threw many people's schedules off enough to affect their donation patterns – and so did last week's heat wave. “Oregonians always come out when we ask,” Mathew said. “They're great. They heed the call.” But when weather conditions make it inconvenient or uncomfortable to get to a donation site, donations do go down. In fact, the Oregon Trail Chapter of the Red Cross saw a 30 percent spike in donations after launching an advertising and media campaign to get more people in to donate. During last week's heat wave, donations began to dip again. In addition to the current campaign -- which says if three more people attend every drive the Red Cross hosts in August, the shortage will end – Mathew said the Red Cross is working on a long term public appeal to get donors to come in on a consistent basis. On a policy level, the organization is also pushing to increase the number of people who are eligible to donate. Mathew also said the American Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks continue to oppose the Food and Drug Administration's ban on accepting blood donations from men who have sex with men. The Association of Blood Banks issued a statement in June also asking the FDA to reconsider its position: “AABB supports the use of rational, scientifically-based deferral periods that are applied fairly and consistently among blood donors who engage in activities posing similar risks. AABB maintains its recommendation that FDA amend the indefinite deferral currently in place for a male who has had sex with another male to a 12-month deferral.” The statement goes on to note that those who report other high-risk sexual behavior (including having sex with an HIV-positive person) also have their donations deferred by 12 months, and argues that the FDA's policy is not consistent. “We're definitely behind lifting the ban,” Mathew said, adding that some U.S. senators have also begun to pressure the FDA to lift the ban on blood donation by gay and bisexual men. TO LEARN MORE: To find an upcoming blood drive or fixed location donation site in your area, visit or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.
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