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LECOM Student Advocates Changing FDA Ban on Blood Donations

A student at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) has joined the campaign against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) longstanding policy of refusing blood donations from men who have sex with other men.

The student, Brian R. Wlosinski, is a member of the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Class of 2015 at LECOM-Seton Hill in Greensburg, Pa. Wlosinski recently co-authored a resolution calling for the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) to stand with the American Red Cross and other organizations in asking the FDA reconsider its stance.

The AOA’s House of Delegates recently passed the resolution unanimously. It was a victory for Wlosinski and Whitney J. Fix-Lanes, the House delegate from the Student Osteopathic Medical Association and the co-author of the resolution.

“We were sitting together when the resolution passed,” Wlosinski said. “We had a little celebration.

“We want DOs as a group to express their opposition to a policy that we believe to be unnecessary, discriminatory, and unfair,” Wlosinski added.

The Food and Drug Administration indefinitely defers as a donor any male who, since 1977, has had sex with another man. The FDA’s website states that the policy is designed for the protection of those receiving blood. According to the FDA, men who have sex with other men (MSM) are “at increased risk for HIV, Hepatitis B, and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion.”

Critics, including the Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, AABB (American Association of Blood Banks) and others, believe the policy is based more on homophobia and unfair stereotypes than on sound medical and scientific evidence. Locally, the Community Blood Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania and Western New York is in agreement with those organizations, which believe that advancements in blood testing have rendered the ban obsolete. Even the FDA acknowledges that current HIV tests are “highly accurate” and that the risk of HIV going undetected in a unit of blood has been reduced to about 1 in 2 million.

“While the FDA’s policy banning men who have had sex with other men from donating blood made sense when testing was not available for HIV, that isn’t the case today,” Tyler C. Cymet, D.O., said in an article on the American Osteopathic Association’s website. “Therefore, it makes sense to provide these potential donors the opportunity to donate blood.”

In addition, proponents of change believe it would benefit greatly the blood supply in the United States while also helping reduce blood shortages.

“We obviously would never want to compromise the safety of the blood supply,” Wlosinski added. “However, this unnecessary policy excludes an entire segment of the American population from ever donating blood.”

Wlosinski believes the vote by the AOA House of Delegates will provide momentum for those who want the ban overturned. “Even though the policy has been in place for many years, I’m optimistic,” he said. “Raising public awareness is going to be very important in affecting change. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss the issue before Congress.”