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Some protest FDA ban on blood donations from gay men

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Blood banks seem to constantly ask people to give blood, but not everyone has an equal opportunity to donate.
The Food and Drug Administration currently has forbidden the donation of blood from men who have had sexual contact with another man since 1977, a policy which has sparked peaceful protest among members of the Ohio State and Columbus community.
The American Red Cross, Outlook Media, an Ohio GLBT media company, and the OSU Multicultural Center partnered together for the “Brothers in Blood” blood drive on Tuesday, an event that protested the FDA’s policy.
Curtis Allen, FDA spokesman, said in an email that the policy that prevents men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating is centered on the potential health risks for others because gay individuals comprise about 50 percent of all HIV infected persons in the U.S., he said.
“The FDA’s MSM deferral policy is based upon identifying and minimizing risk to the blood supply,” Allen said. “The FDA’s blood safety efforts focus on minimizing the risk of transmitting infectious diseases, while maintaining an adequate supply of blood for the nation. The agency welcomes scientific and public input and will continue to re-evaluate donor deferral policies as new data become available to ensure the safety of blood and blood products for patients who need these products.”
In June 2010, the Health and Human Service’s Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability met to discuss the policy, Allen said, but it determined there was not sufficient data to support a modification in the policy and voted 9-6 to maintain it.
As a result of unchanged policy, the “Brothers in Blood” drive was created.
The first drive was held in October 2011 with the idea that those who were not eligible to donate could bring friends to give blood in their place, said Rodney Wilson, communications manager for the Central Ohio Region of the Red Cross. There was also the opportunity to sign a pledge against the policy.
“It’s a positive protest of the policy in a way that we’re still helping patients and we’re still showing the FDA the desire to help and that even more could have been collected if this policy weren’t in place,” Wilson said.
Many people believe the policy has been put in place by the Red Cross, which is one misconception Wilson wants to clarify.
“I think the main purpose of a blood drive with Outlook Media on this concept ‘Brothers in Blood’ is to educate people about this policy,” he said. “Many people don’t know that the policy exists and some people know about the policy but they think that it’s a Red Cross policy and that the Red Cross discriminates against gay people. So we want to educate the community that the Red Cross does not agree with this policy.”
The blood drive has been held the past two years in October, but this was the first time OSU became involved.
Chris Hayes, president of Outlook Media, said the group was very excited to partner with the MCC for the event.
“Any efforts that we can bring collaborative partners together to help promote and fight against the ban the FDA has on MSM and gay men from giving blood is not only greatly appreciated but is invaluable to getting the unjust rule overturned,” he said.
Hayes said he feels OSU’s desire to help is positive.
“It’s great when young people get involved in causes,” he said.
The MCC decided to join the efforts for “Brothers in Blood” upon seeing the message it was trying to send, said Habiba Kamagate, coordinator of central programs and multicultural wellness initiatives at the MCC. The group’s involvement in the blood drive received positive feedback from students.
“We weren’t expecting to get any push-back,” she said. “We figured that a lot of people would have questions about it or what encouraged us to do a blood drive like this, but for the most part it’s been really supportive.”
Besides collecting blood donations, Kamagate said she hoped students walked away understanding the differences that exist among people in the community and they should help one another as a result.
“Outside of the fact that this blood drive is about giving life, we hope that students really pay attention to the other message we’re trying to get across,” Kamagate said. “That there are a lot of people who walk this campus who look just like you, who are in class with you that don’t necessarily have the same freedoms and the same rights to do the things that you’re able to do.”

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