For over 30 years, gay men are not allowed to donate blood because of the risks of HIV transmission. Although men, women and homosexuals alike can all spread the infection, the prohibition stems from the fact that when AIDS emerged in the U.S, the deadly disease was more prevalent among gay men and men who had sexual contact with other men.

The disease is now better understood and is no longer called a "gay-related immune deficiency" but gay men are still banned from donating their blood, a policy that was enacted in 1983 and was put in place to prevent the transmission of HIV and other bloodborne infections. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, may soon change this.

An FDA advisory panel will meet and discuss on Tuesday, Dec. 2, whether or not gay men should now be allowed to donate blood. If the Blood Products Advisory Committee decides it is best to lift the ban and the FDA follows this recommendation, the agency may make changes to the decades-old prohibition that has been facing criticisms from the LGBT community, some lawmakers and groups that call it as discriminatory and scientifically unwarranted.

"We've got the ball rolling. I feel like this is a tide-turning vote," said LGBT activist and National Gay Blood Drive founder Ryan James Yezak. "There's been a lot of feet dragging and I think they're realizing it now."

A study conducted by the researchers from the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law at the University of California, Los Angeles found that allowing gay men to donate blood would increase the supply of blood by over 615,000 pints per year and save nearly 2 million lives.

"Our analyses suggest that lifting the ban could increase the total annual blood supply by 2%-4%," the researchers wrote [pdf]. "Our estimates suggest that lifting the blood donation ban among MSM could be used to help save the lives of more than 1.8 million people."

Eleven organizations representing users depending on blood products, however, plan to urge the panel not to change the policy unless a tough blood monitoring system is adopted.

The groups, which represent about 125,000 Americans, said that a "robust, comprehensive hemovigilance program" should be implemented should the policy be adopted so blood safety risks will be monitored. Such program would also allow for fast corrective actions should a need arises.

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