TV presenter Andy Cohen ended a recent episode of his show Watch What Happens Live with an important message about blood donation and discrimination.
After recovering from the coronavirus earlier this month, Cohen, 51, was keen to help others suffering from the infection, and signed up to a programme where coronavirus survivors donate plasma to those still fighting the illness.
However, he was informed that – as a gay man – he would be ineligible as a donor, with ‘antiquated and discriminatory guidelines’ dating back to the ’80s meaning he cannot donate blood. Even during a global health crisis such as this.
Updated restrictions require gay men to abstain from sex for a three month period, whether or not they’re in a monogamous relationship. As noted by Cohen, ‘no such blanket restrictions’ exist for heterosexual donors.
You can watch Cohen’s message for yourself below:
Speaking at the end of an episode on April 23, Cohen said:
Here’s the thing, this virus is ravaging our planet. The FDA says there’s an urgent need for plasma from survivors. All donated blood is screened for HIV. And a rapid HIV test can be done in 20 minutes or less.
So why the three month rule? Why are members of my community being excluded from helping out when so many people are sick and dying?
Maybe because we’re valuing stigma over science. My blood could save a life, but instead it’s over here boiling! This pandemic has forced us to adapt in many ways. We’re quarantining, we’re social distancing. We’re wearing masks! Why can’t we adapt when it comes to this rule?
[…] It’s bad enough that quarantining has us wondering what day it is. I’m sitting here wondering what year it is! We need to think about this and do better.
In an open letter addressed to the US Food and Drug Administration Blood Products Advisory Committee on April 16, a group of infectious disease and HIV specialists criticised the ‘scientifically outdated ban’.
In this letter, the experts addressed to need to step up in the wake of the pandemic:
While changing policy and implementing such changes in the field are logistically challenging, the COVID-19 pandemic is asking us to step up and revise regulations that no longer serve the greater good.
We are not advocating for relaxing standards that would compromise the safety of our blood supply. Instead, we advocate for scientifically-driven standards that uphold the utmost safety of the blood supply and simultaneously promote equity and reverse historical discrimination in blood donation.
As such, we recommend an immediate reevaluation of the FDA’s 2018 “Revised Recommendations for Reducing the Risk of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission by Blood and Blood Products” and an overturning of the scientifically outdated ban against MSM blood donors.
This letter cited a 2014 study from the UCLA School of Law which discovered that allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood would mean 360,000 people would become eligible. It’s estimated this could lead to an additional 615,300 pints of blood donated every single year.
You can sign the letter for yourself here.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, contact the LGBT Foundation on 0345 3 30 30 30, 10am–6pm Monday to Friday, or email [email protected]
Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen/YouTube