A Lifesaving Donation: Why (Still) Can't Gay Men Donate Blood - Palm Springs News, Weather, Traffic, Breaking News

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A Lifesaving Donation: Why (Still) Can't Gay Men Donate Blood

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Palm Springs, CA -

For his entire life, giving blood was never an option for Jonathan Wynne.

"It doesn't feel good, it definitely feels like we're second class citizens," said Wynne.

It's something he felt like was his civic duty but now that's limited to what many say society deemed as "healthy".

"My desire to donate blood isn't specific to gay men, it's for anyone who needs it," he says.

Blood is needed by someone in the United States every two seconds. Over the past two months, there have been 61,000 fewer donations, according to the Red Cross. Lifestream Blood Bank says they're in dire need of blood donations too. At the same time, organizations are turning away thousands of potentially healthy donors because of these FDA regulations.

Rewind back to June of 2016 where49 people died inside of the Pulse Night Club in Orlando. The LGBT community and others rallied to help give blood to those victims in need.

"A lot of the people felt like, this is a our community, we should be able to donate and they were turned away," said Wynne.

It's been a decades long battle starting in 1985, as the aids epidemic became a national health crisis. The CDC estimated between 5,000 to 7,500 people had been infected with HIV from blood transfusions through 1990. So the FDA was determined to keep the nations blood supply safe, implementing a lifetime ban for any men who had ever had sexual contact with another man.

"I think that experience colored everything for the next 40 years," said Joe Chaffin, Chief Medical Officer with Lifestream Blood Bank.

In 2015, a step forward for gay men across the country.

"From a permanent deferral down to a one-year deferral, the united states lagged behind much of the world in doing that," said Chaffin.

He says the FDA's research in screening blood to detect diseases including HIV is far more advanced.

"When you consider that in the United States we're transfusing in the range of 15 million blood products a year and no HIV infections are being reported, it really speaks to the overall safety of the blood supply," he said.

But still, experts urged that no lab test was ever 100 percent sensitive. So they implemented a questionnaire to have extra screening before donors donated blood.

"It's just one layer of the safety of the blood before it gets to the recipient," said Chaffin.

But the question now lingering on these questionnaires wasn't  the on paper but in the honesty of those answering the questions.

"How do you know that people are telling the truth?" said Chaffin.

In 2008, a Missouri man lied about his sexual contact with men. His blood was screened and his HIV status came back negative, even though he contracted the virus.

"When he donated, he was in the window period for HIV infection," said Chaffin.

That window period ranges between 10 days to three months. In that period, there may not be enough anti-bodies in the blood to show a test as positive.

"At least one of the recipients ended up being infected with HIV," said Chaffin.

Today, nearly 15 percent of donors get deferred as a result of these questionnaires. Over the past 12 months, out of that 15 percent, only .06 percent of donors were deferred because of male to male sexual contact. Experts say its because gay men know they can't donate and know, giving blood isn't something that will be accessible in the near future.

"Verbiage that's used when you're screening, it feels very specific against gay men," said Wynne.

There's new research underway that may lead experts to ask for another review, so more potential donors have a chance to make a difference in others lives.

"They do that out of the goodness of their heart, trying to help people," said Chaffin.

But wynne says regardless the restrictions, regardless who someone loves...

"I feel like it's important to stick together," he said.

A Palm Springs resident started a petition on Moveon.org to ask for a review of those guidelines and regulations the FDA has in place. Right now, that petition has more than 14,000 signatures.

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