On Friday, Jan. 27, the US Food and Drug Administration announced that its proposing a change to blood donor eligibility.

The FDA is going to begin using “gender-inclusive, individual risk-based questions to reduce the risk of transfusion-transmitted HIV,” rather than relying on a person’s sexuality.

This is another step in the Food and Drug Administration’s move away from decades-old rules meant to keep HIV out of the blood supply. When the AIDs crisis hit in the early 1980s the FDA instigated a ban on blood donations from gay men. However, that’s been changing over the past decade.

Eight years ago, the FDA began allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood if they had gone a year without having sex.  Three years ago – largely in response to dramatic drops in blood donation during the COVID-19 pandemic – the FDA began allowing gay and bisexual men who hadn’t had sex in the previous three months to donate blood.

The proposed new guidelines announced on Friday would drop the requirement for gay and bisexual men in monogamous relationships to abstain from sex before donating blood.

One reason cited is an improved ability to test for the HIV virus.

Soon after the announcement by the FDA, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley and State Health Director and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson weighed in on the issue, saying in a joint statement that this is “a major step forward for ending stigmatization of gay and bisexual men.”

The two wrote the following:  “We applaud the life-saving decision by the US Food and Drug Administration to adapt its rules for blood donation, joining countries around the world in proposing a set of rules that defers donors for risky behaviors, not for who they are. This decision allows a previously marginalized group of people to participate in one of the most selfless acts that individuals perform, coming together to save lives.”

They went on to say that this is the best way to ensure a “safe and robust supply” of blood.

The two state health officials added that this is a very welcome development since the number of blood donations in the state has been way down since the pandemic.

Kinsley and Tilson had something to do with the FDA’s policy change. They, and health officials from nine other states and the District of Columbia, wrote a letter to the FDA in March of last year asking that the FDA’s blood donation policy be changed. The letter stated that the specificity of HIV testing now available all but eliminates the risk of the virus getting into the blood supply.

The group of health officials argued that restrictions on blood donation should be based on risky behavior – not a person’s sexuality.

The new FDA rules will go through a 60-day comment period. The FDA will review comments before finalizing its guidance.