The United Kingdom's Department of Health announced Sept. 8 it will end the lifetime ban on blood donation by men who have sex with other men.
The absolute ban has been lifted in favor of a 12-month waiting period after a man's last sexual encounter with another man.
According to the U.K. Health Department website, the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs has found no evidence supporting the continued exclusion from blood donation of men who have sex with other men, or MSM.
Dr. Kathleen Sazama, chief medical officer of LifeSouth Community Blood Centers in Florida, said the lifetime ban on MSM has existed in the United States since 1983.
LifeSouth serves Alabama, Georgia and Florida, and Sazama said on average, people in those areas donate 250,000 units of blood and platelets every year.
Every unit of donated blood is tested for infectious agents. However, Sazama said, the testing is not perfect, so potential blood donors are screened for factors that put them at increased risk for contracting diseases.
Although there are dozens of reasons someone might not be able to give blood, perhaps the most controversial category of banned donors are men who have sex with other men. The lifetime ban on blood donation was put in place when little was known about HIV and AIDS, Sazama said.
"It's hard to make public policy that doesn't disenfranchise some private citizens," she said.
Sazama said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which sets the restrictions on blood donation, discusses the ban every year. However, to lift it, the FDA must have absolute evidence showing that recipients of donated blood won't be harmed by changing the rule.
Lauren Hannahs, director of UF's LGBT Affairs, said the U.K.'s revised restriction is a step in the right direction.
"The ban here is based on stereotypes, misconceptions and fear," she said.
Hannahs said she understands why the ban was put in place at first, but in practice now, it reinforces the stereotype that gay men are hypersexual and that gay sex equals unsafe sex.
Hannahs said by lifting the ban, the U.K. is providing an opportunity for stereotypes to be abolished.
"I think the repealing of that ban in the U.K. will show the rest of the world [...] that the ban is flawed and has no grounds to stand on anymore," she said.
She believes that in the wake of the U.K. lifting the ban, subsequent research and the right conversations will lead to more understanding and an eventual lifting of the ban in the U.S.