American Red Cross asks FDA to reduce wait time for gay, bisexual men donors


AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – While the need for blood donation may be great, not everyone is eligible.

People who are sick, on certain medications, have low iron and traveled outside of the U.S. may have a waiting period before they can roll up a sleeve and give blood.

But The American Red Cross wants the Food and Drug Administration to take a look at its policy for one group.

You hear it all the time. Blood donations needed. But not everyone is able to give. The American Red Cross is working to make that change.

“If my spouse got into a car accident and needed blood and I was a match, I wouldn’t be able to do that,” said Michael Barnard Jenkins.

Barnard Jenkins is married to a man, so he’s excluded from donating blood to the American Red Cross. The organization’s policy currently prohibits men who have sex with men from donating blood unless they have not had sex in more than 12 months. It’s part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s guidance “Revised Recommendations for Reducing the Risk of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission by Blood and Blood Products” deferral criteria.

“Ever since I came out of the closet, it was just one thing that I knew I would never be able to do,” Barnard Jenkins told NewsChannel 6. “That’s hard being an individual knowing that I could never be there to support fellow Americans or even just someone in need. Even if you’ve got a family member that’s in the hospital. If you’re a match, you can’t help them.”

The Red Cross wants the FDA to revise its donor deferral period for gay and bisexual men. It released this statement in hopes of becoming more inclusive with an environment that embraces diversity.

“…the Red Cross believes blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation.”

“I think that we’re moving in the right direction of making progress. With the right technology and resources that we have now, they can detect an HIV or AIDS virus in as little as 11 days when you donate blood versus 12 months to a year. We’ve come a long way since 1983 when it was first put in place,” Barnard Jenkins said of the request for a change.

The Red Cross wants the Food and Drug Administration to consider reducing that deferral time for men who have sex with men from 12 months to three months. It’s a policy change the Red Cross reports has already happened in places such as Canada and Great Britain.

Barnard Jenkins told us, “I think that we can continue to progress as Americans. Blood sources are limited. With the right technology in place and science we can continue to move forward.”

There is no word on when this change will take place, but The Red Cross is asking advocates and stakeholders to join in on the dialogue.

There is still a higher need for blood donations during winter months though. Local American Red Cross Executive Director Susan Everitt said it is because people are gone. She said regular blood donors get busy too around this time of year because of the holidays and corporations cancel blood drives. Still, the need for blood remains.

She explained, “We really need all types of blood. Any type that people can give us. We need all types of blood. Any type that people can give us we are happy to use because blood is not something that will stay on the shelf for a lifetime.”

Everitt said a blood drive will take place this Sunday, December 1 at the Central Church of Christ on Riverwatch Parkway in Augusta from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps

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