Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
There have been plenty of calls to lift the ban on male blood donors who have had sex with other men. Now, an eye-opening new report shows just what lifting that ban could accomplish: It could save more than 1.8 million lives in a year.
In the report, released this week by the UCLA Williams Institute, the authors calculate (based on stats from the General Social Survey) how many men would finally be eligible to donate and how many pints of blood would realistically be donated if the ban were lifted at least somewhat. The report's calculations address three different possible scenarios: If the ban on gay male donors were completely lifted, or if it only applied to men who had sex with another man in the past year (the Red Cross's current suggestion) or if it only concerned sexual activity between men during the past five years. The authors excluded the CDC's estimated number of these men who are currently living with HIV, because they would be identified during the routine blood screening and survey process.
If the ban only applied to the past year of sexual activity, the authors estimate 185,800 men would become eligible to donate, and would likely donate around 317,000 pints of blood per year. If we get rid of the ban completely, those numbers go up to 360,600 men donating 615,300 pints. Because the Red Cross suggests that each donation could be used in procedures to save three patients' lives, the study authors' estimate that these added donations would amount to 1.8 million lives saved per year.
According to the Red Cross, although 38% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate, less than 10% actually go through with it, which is how the researchers landed on their estimate of 360,600 likely donors. Although few people actually die due to a lack of blood on the shelf in the U.S., our demand for donations is always extremely high; we need about 41,000 of them every day, which saves around 4.8 million lives per year. Both Canada and the U.K. have recently revisited their own restrictions on gay blood donors. It's about time we followed their lead.