US federal health officials are lifting the nation’s 30-year-old ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, allowing the men to donate 12 months after their last sexual contact with another man. The US Food and Drug Administration’s announcement on Dec. 21 was based on modern testing methods proving that an indefinite ban does not prevent HIV transmission.

"Ultimately, the 12-month deferral window is supported by the best available scientific evidence, at this point in time, relevant to the US population," Peter Marks, deputy director of the FDA’s biologics division, said in a press release. “We will continue to actively conduct research in this area and further revise our policies as new data emerge.”

The lifetime ban was introduced in the early AIDS crisis. Now, this 12-month deferral brings the US in line with countries such as the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Previous studies evaluated over eight million units of donated blood after a change in Australia from an indefinite blood donor deferral policy for men who have sex with men to a 12-month deferral. These published studies showed no change in risk to the blood supply with the 12-month deferral. Still, data for shorter deferral intervals are not yet available.

Not everyone is thrilled with the decision. Gay rights advocates maintain that the new policy is still discriminatory. According to Jared Polis, a Democratic congressman and co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, it is nonsensical to allow blood donation from a promiscuous straight man with hundreds of sex partners while forbidding a married gay man in a monogamous relationship.

Potential donors with haemophilia or related clotting disorders are still not allowed to donate blood. Patients with these disorders were thought to be at higher risk for HIV transmission before, but the new research shows that the ban is still in place for their own protection due to potential harm from large needles used during the donation process.

FDA said that specific deferral questions and advances in HIV donor testing has helped the agency reduce the HIV transmission rates from blood transfusion from one in 2,500 to one in 1.47 million. According to the statement, the FDA will continue to re-evaluate and update blood donor deferral policies as new scientific information becomes available.

Contact the writer at or tell us what you think below.