Why Gay Men Cannot Donate Plasma: A timeline

30 April, 2021

In June 1981, a mysterious new disease was discovered in North America. The disease, then called Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID), would go on to change the course of the nation's history. 

Caused by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), GRID, as the name suggests, was initially believed to only affect men who have had sex with other men. 

However, after it escalated into an epidemic, the disease went from affecting a handful of gay men to affecting people in hundreds and thousands. Scientists learned that it affects men and women almost equally. And so the disease was renamed AIDS – Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.  

HIV hadn't just destroyed immune systems but further destroyed the already damaged public perception of gay men, and hence public policies that concerned them.  

One policy still ardently disputed concerns the opportunity for men who have sex with other men (MSM) to help save lives — to donate blood or plasma. After AIDS broke out in 1981, the FDA, in 1985, stipulated that men who have had sex with men (MSM) after 1977 shall be indefinitely deferred from donating blood or plasma.  

Then, in 2015, the FDA revised the controversial policy, stating that MSM can donate if they haven't had sex in the past 12 months. 

Now, given the sharp decline in the supply of source plasma during the pandemic, the FDA re-revised the policy, reducing the pre-donation-sex period to 3 months.  

Here's a neat timeline that illustrates the forces that led to these monumental decisions.  


The big question remains: why even 3 months? With blood and plasma testing technologies so advanced, does it matter whom the blood or plasma is collected from?  

Is the FDA's policy discriminatory? Or do the plasma centers have a point? What do you think? 

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