The nation's three-decade-old ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men was formally lifted Monday, but major restrictions will continue to limit who can donate. The Food and Drug Administration says it is replacing the lifetime ban with a new policy barring donations from men who have had sex with a man in the previous year. While the one-year-ban has been criticized by activists, it matches policies in other countries, including Australia, Japan, and the UK. Gay rights activists said the new policy is a "step in the right direction," but falls short. "It continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men," says David Stacy, of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest US gay rights group.
Monday's policy shift was first proposed in late 2014 and follows years of lobbying by medical groups and gay rights groups, who said the previous ban was outdated and perpetuated negative stereotypes. The FDA considered eliminating all restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, but concluded that would increase the transmission of HIV through the blood supply by 400%. All US blood donations are screened for HIV. But there is a roughly 10-day window between initial infection and when the virus can be detected by current testing techniques. The American Red Cross estimates the risk of getting an HIV-positive blood donation is 1 in 1.5 million for all US patients. (Read more HIV/AIDS stories.)