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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Keeping blood ban a disservice to those in need

Since 1983, the United States Food and Drug Administration has maintained a ban prohibiting any man who has ever had sex with another man — even just once — from donating blood or organs. The ban was created before technology had provided a viable way of testing donated blood for HIV infection.

Today, donated blood is put through a battery of sophisticated tests to determine whether it is safe and disease-free. However, after two days of hearings, the Federal Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability recommended last week that the FDA maintain the ban prohibiting gay men from becoming donors. The decision came despite criticism from organizations such as the American Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers.

It is true, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies, that “”men who have sex with men,”” or MSM, still represent a disproportionate number of HIV cases in the United States; while they make up just 2 percent of the population, their infection rates are 44 times higher than those of other men.

However, African Americans, who make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, account for more than 50 percent of new HIV infections, according to the CDC. African American men are more likely to contract HIV than women, but the CDC reports that at some point in their lives, 1 in 30 black women will be diagnosed with HIV. That rate is more than 15 times higher than the infection rate of white women. Hispanic individuals also have significantly higher rates of HIV infection than white ones.

This is not to say that these or any other groups should be banned from donating blood along with gay men. On the contrary, the statistics point to the fact that the ban, far from better ensuring that no infected blood makes its way into blood banks, merely perpetuates ugly and outdated stereotypes.

As recently as the 1990s, AIDS was seen as a “”gay”” disease, a terrible infection that only reached those in a particular, stigmatized group. However, the AIDS epidemic in Africa and its growing threat in the United States reveal that HIV is not a “”gay”” thing — anyone can become infected, and tens of thousands of Americans do each year. Studies have shown that heterosexual sex is the fastest-growing means of contracting HIV in the United States, and the most prevalent method worldwide.

HIV does not belong to a single group, but affects millions of people. Lifestyle choices such as whether one uses drugs intravenously or practices safe sex have much more bearing on one’s risk for HIV infection than simple sexual orientation. The blanket blood ban encourages the nasty stigmatization of gay men as an “”infected”” or “”tainted”” population, without doing anything to protect those who need blood.

In fact, the ban limits the amount of blood organizations like the American Red Cross can receive. According to the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, the ban robs blood donation agencies of about 219,000 pints of blood annually. Lifting the ban could result in a 1.4 percent increase in the nation’s blood supply and a 2.9 percent increase in organ donations — about 900 organs per year. The outdated ban keeps these much-needed supplies of blood and organs from getting to people who need them to stay alive.

Imagine what a difference lifting the ban could make at the UA alone. Several times a semester, the Red Cross Blood Mobile takes up residence on the UA Mall to accept donations from students, staff and community members. The Associated Students of the University of Arizona Pride Alliance, the UA’s largest LGBTQ support group, has an active and vibrant role on campus, and could, if the ban was lifted, encourage blood donations from its members. Our campus alone could contribute a substantial amount more blood to the Red Cross without the restrictive ban, and would certainly do so with joy.

Technology today has made modern blood screening techniques unrecognizable compared to those 20 years ago. Prohibiting men who have sex with other men from donating blood is an unnecessary, discriminatory practice that perpetuates ugly myths about homosexuality and HIV. The FDA would do well to ignore the recommendation to uphold the ban, but unfortunately will probably continue its dated practice of denying gay men the right to save lives through blood and organ donation.

But perhaps with enough pressure from gay and civil rights organizations, the next time the ban comes up for review, a more clearheaded decision will emerge.

— Heather Price-Wright is a creative writing senior. She can be reached at

letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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