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U.S. Panel Upholds Ban on Gay Men as Blood Donors
Date:6/13/2010

Experts cite small but potential danger to the blood supply, but urge more research

SATURDAY, June 12 (HealthDay News) -- A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services panel of experts on Friday voted to uphold a decades-old ban on gay men donating blood, while advocating for more research on the controversial issue.

The current policy -- put into effect in 1985 during the early days of the AIDS crisis -- prevents any man who since 1977 has had sex with another man from donating blood.

In hearings Thursday and Friday, the Health and Human Services' Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability considered calls for a revision of the policy in light of scientific innovations made over the last 25 years. Those changes have led to marked improvements in blood screening and HIV detection, experts say.

Current technology, for example, allows for detection of HIV in the blood in as little as two weeks following infection.

But the high-ranking panel voted 9 to 6 to uphold the blood donation ban for gay men, citing a very small but still unacceptable risk to the blood supply, the Chicago Tribune reported. The panel deemed the current policy "suboptimal," however, and recommended steps toward a policy that looks at individual behaviors rather than barring a broad group such as gay and bisexual men.

Among the recommendations, according to the Tribune: questionnaires filled out by prospective donors that might spot risky sexual behaviors, regardless of sexual orientation; studies into the feasibility of prescreening protocols that would determine if a particular gay male could safely be a donor; and more study into donor demographics to determine which are at highest risk of transmitting a range of blood-borne pathogens, including newly emerging varieties.

Critics of the current system are numerous.

"When the policy was first instigated in the 1980s there was good
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