Federal Blood Donation Study Recruiting Gay and Bisexual Men

SILVER SPRING, Md. — The Whitman-Walker Institute in Washington DC and the Los Angeles LGBT Center are among LGBTQ support organizations in eight U.S. cities working with the nation’s three largest blood donor centers on a study to find a way to greatly facilitate blood donation eligibility for men who have sex with men or MSM.

The study, which is funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, plans to recruit a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men from eight U.S. cities selected for the study to test the reliability of a questionnaire detailed donor history aimed at assessing the individual risk of a gay or bisexual man transmitting HIV if he donates blood.

A statement released by the study organizers says the questionnaire, which could be given to a gay or bisexual person presenting at a blood donation site, could replace the FDA’s current policy of barring men who have had sex with another man within the three months prior to donating blood.

In the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the FDA implemented a permanent ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. In 2015, with advanced HIV testing and screening techniques readily available, the FDA lifted its permanent ban on MSM blood donations and replaced it with a 12-month restriction on sexual activity between MSM.

The FDA further reduced sexual abstinence time for MSM to three months in 2020.

LGBTQ rights organizations and others advocating for a change to the current FDA restriction point out that at a time when the country is facing a severe shortage of blood donations due to the COVID pandemic , the three-month donation deferral requirement for MSM prevents large numbers of blood donations from men at low or no risk of HIV infection.

As part of the study funded and initiated by the FDA, the American Red Cross, Vitalant and OneBlood – the three largest blood donation centers in the country – have been performing the questionnaire tests since the study began in March. 2021.

“To collect the necessary data, blood centers will partner with LGBTQ+ centers in Washington, DC, San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles and Atlanta,” organizers of the event say. study in a press release. a website was launched to help recruit volunteers for the study.

“The study will recruit a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men (250-300 from each region) who meet the study eligibility criteria,” the statement said.

Among the eligibility criteria, the statement said, the person must be between the ages of 18 and 39, have expressed an interest in donating blood, have had sex with at least one other man in the three months preceding the study. , and must accept an HIV test. A negative test result is also required for acceptance into the study.

The study is officially named ADVANCE, which stands for Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility.

“The ADVANCE study is a first step in providing data that will help the FDA determine whether a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk would be as effective as time-based deferral in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply,” the study said in the organizers’ statement.

“If the scientific evidence supports the use of the different questions, this could mean that men who have sex with men who come forward to donate would be assessed on their own individual risk of HIV infection and not based on when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” the statement continued. “The ADVANCE study is groundbreaking because it is the first time a study has been conducted that could result in an assessment individual risks for men who have sex with men to donate blood,” the statement said.

The Whitman-Walker Institute, which is one of the community organizations involved in organizing and conducting the study, is a branch of Whitman-Walker Health, DC’s LGBTQ health center.

Christopher Cannon, director of research operations for the Whitman-Walker Institute, said that since the DC-based portion of the study was launched early last year before the study was officially announced on March 20 , DC exceeded the city’s original recruiting goal. 250 participants for the study.

“We’re currently at 276 as of last Friday’s report,” Cannon told The Blade in a Jan. 13 interview. “And the current target now is 300,” he said. “So we hope to push that beyond that goal line in the days and weeks to come.

Cannon said that, like community organizations involved in the study in other cities, the role of the Whitman-Walker Institute focused on recruiting gay and bisexual men to participate in the study and sending them to the American Red Cross headquarters at 430 17th St., NW near the White House. This site, which serves as a blood donation center, also serves as a site where study participants are screened, interviewed, and presented with a detailed questionnaire.

“We promote the study within,” Cannon said. “We promote it to our networks. We promoted on social media all over town.

Although Whitman-Walker didn’t have the final version of the questionnaire presented to study participants, Cannon said he had seen “bits and pieces of it.”

“They ask very direct questions about the person’s sex life, their sex partners, sex acts, number of partners,” Cannon said. “There are questions about condom use, PrEP use, drug use. How long have you had sex? Lots of related issues,” he said.

“It’s really about trying to effectively figure out what the best questions are,” Cannon says. “The hope is to analyze the questions and identify perhaps the top 10-12 questions that can be used universally…to get the best answers that identify people who may be at the highest risk,” did he declare. Doing this, he points out, can help determine which men who have sex with men should be eligible to donate blood safely.

A statement released by Whitman-Walker last March calls the study a “monumental research effort” that has the potential to lift the stigma placed on gay and bisexual men whose ability to donate blood is currently based on their sexual orientation. .

“The ADVANCE study is designed to understand whether, by asking carefully crafted, research-based research questions, blood collectors can screen potential blood donors for their individual risk factors for HIV rather than applying a prohibition against sexually active gay and bisexual men,” the statement said.

“The goal is to move away from overbroad questions that exclude potential donors and spread stigmatizing messages about MSM and their risk of HIV,” he says.

Cannon said that as of last week, study organizers recruited a total of 879 study participants nationwide toward the goal of 2,000 participants needed to complete the study. He said issues with the COVID pandemic have delayed recruitment efforts, but study organizers hoped the study could be completed by this summer.

Information about participating in the study or to learn more about it can be obtained at advancestudy.org.

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