FRIDAY, Jan. 14, 2022 (HealthDay News) — A three-month sexual abstinence rule for blood donations from sexually active gay and bisexual men should be dropped by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, critics urge as the country struggles with a blood shortage.

Right now, based on the slight chance of infection with HIV, men who have sex with men must abstain from sex with other men for 90 days before being eligible to donate blood. It is a rule that is considered discriminatory by advocates and viewed by many in the medical community as an unnecessary roadblock to blood donation, NBC News reported.

In April 2020, the FDA decreased the abstinence requirement from 12 months to three months of abstinence, which was done at the urging of lawmakers and advocates as the nation faced a pandemic-caused blood shortage. The issue was sparked again this week when the Red Cross announced that skyrocketing COVID-19 cases have caused the “worst blood shortage in more than a decade.” That led to a call from LGBTQ advocates and nearly two dozen members of Congress for the FDA to drop the abstinence requirement. “Any policy that continues to categorically single out the LGBTQ+ community is discriminatory and wrong. Given advances in blood screening and safety technology, a time-based policy for gay and bisexual men is not scientifically sound, continues to effectively exclude an entire group of people, and does not meet the urgent demands of the moment,” 22 senators said in a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D.

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This is not the first time the agency has been asked to change the rule: The Red Cross and leading medical groups such as the American Medical Association have previously urged the FDA to lift the ban on donations from men who have sex with men. If that happened, there would be a 2 to 4 percent increase — 345,400 to 615,300 more pints of blood — in the nation’s annual blood supply, according to the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law, NBC News reported.

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