(Reuters) - Gay men will be able to donate blood one year after their last sexual contact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday, under a proposal that will be introduced early next year to end a ban that has been in place since 1983.
Scientific evidence shows the move will not create risks for the nation's blood supply, the FDA said. The policy change is expected to boost the supply of donated blood by hundreds of thousands of pints per year.
Blood donations from gay men have been barred since the discovery that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was being transmitted through transfusions.
The FDA said the move aligns the policy for gay men with that for other men and women who are at increased risk for HIV infection. The agency, under pressure from medical groups and advocates, had convened meetings of advisory committees this fall to look at the issue.
"The FDA has carefully examined and considered the available scientific evidence relevant to its blood donor deferral policy for men who have sex with men, including the results of several recently completed scientific studies and recent epidemiologic data," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a statement.
The FDA said it will issue draft guidance on the policy, hopefully early in 2015. It would then review the comments and issue final guidance "as quickly as possible," Peter Marks, deputy director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said during a press briefing.
An FDA advisory committee met this month to discuss issues around changing the policy, such as the effectiveness of new blood supply tests for HIV infections. In November, an advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended a one-year deferral.
The FDA stopped short of eliminating the ban for gay men altogether. Marks said during the briefing that scientific evidence for a ban shorter than a year was not "compelling."
In September, the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law at the University of California, Los Angeles said a study showed eliminating the ban would bring in 615,300 pints of blood annually. Instituting a one-year deferral period would bring in 317,000 pints, the study found.
The United Kingdom allows gay men to donate blood if they have not had a sexual partner in 12 months. The American Medical Association this summer voted to oppose the ban.
(Reporting by Caroline Humer; Editing by Christian Plumb and David Gregorio)