Helping local blood banks rebuild their critical supplies while also drawing attention to the FDA’s lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM77), was the goal of the Health Sciences Center PRIDE Blood Drive on Sept. 22.

During the event, the goal of 25 units was greatly surpassed with 45 units of blood provided by 56 donors, and 188 people signed a petition to abolish the FDA MSM77 blood donation deferral policy. The event was organized by the School of Public Health and Information Sciences (SPHIS), Student Government Association, UofL LGBT Center and the American Red Cross.

SPHIS Dean Craig Blakely, PhD, offered remarks and was the first to sign the petition. 

“As a leading institution of public health, we want to continuously evaluate national public health policy to optimize the ability to provide exceptional health for all of our citizens with maximum participation in the process.

“The concern and initiative that the students of the LGBT Center at the University of Louisville have shown on the MSM 77 lifetime deferral policy is an excellent example of a diverse grass-roots effort to change government policy to improve health in the United States,” Blakely said.

“This lifetime deferral unfairly stigmatizes and discriminates against a large portion of the LGBT community, and keeps many healthy would-be donors from giving blood – creating a negative impact on the nation’s blood supply,” said Dustin Scott, event organizer and a student in the SPHIS master’s in public health program. “The FDA policy, established in 1983 after the onset of the AIDS epidemic, is outdated and needs to be abolished.”

Scott gave blood on a regular basis until his status as an MSM prevented him from continuing to do so.

“My parents were once in a car accident and donated blood saved their lives. This is why I am so passionate about blood donation, and I encourage friends, colleagues, family, and even strangers to donate blood in my place,” Scott said.

Scott plans to present research along with the signed petition to the FDA. He is working with medical student Mellad Khoshnood and Professor of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery and Bioengineering George Pantalos, PhD, to provide an analysis of the effectiveness of the MSM blood donation ban.

The team has contacted the 20 countries that spend the most on health care per capita, and has asked for their stance on the MSM donor policy, prevalence of HIV, demographics of those affected, frequency of transfusion of HIV infections, blood screening processes and changes made to their MSM donor policy in the past 10 years.

“We are learning that countries such as the United Kingdom have modified bans, meaning that after an individual engages in risky sexual activity, they are deferred from donating blood for one year to allow for diseases that have prolonged dormant periods to present. We support that,” Scott said. “Our petition to the FDA asks them to rescind the lifetime deferral policy for a more reasonable policy that will permit healthy gay men to contribute to the needs of our society as blood donors.”

“At the LGBT Center, we love connecting students, faculty and the community around us to emerging health issues like this one, and bridging classroom topics with real-world issues. The HSC Pride student group expands our capacity to raise awareness and make novel connections to health issues spanning our various disciplines. I’m excited to see them fostering such interprofessional connections and engaging the community,” said Stacie Steinbock, director, LGBT Center Health Science Center satellite office.