The blood supply: Science versus politics
This column isn’t about religious, cultural or moral considerations with regard to men having sex with other men or “MSM,” as it is referred to by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. We leave those kinds of judgments to others. This column is about the U.S. blood supply and what the scientific community thinks about the advisability of allowing the demographic cohort known to be at the highest risk for HIV/AIDS to donate blood into the U.S. blood supply.
Last Friday, by a 9-6 vote, the members of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability recommended continuation of the current blood donor policy which rejects blood donations from any man who has had sex with another man – a MSM -- even once since 1977. That policy was adopted in the mid-1980s when some 29,000 people acquired HIV/AIDS from blood transfusions.
According to Amy Lansky of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Compared to the general population, MSMs have roughly 44 times the HIV prevalence of other men, and 40 times the prevalence of women.”
Going back to 1977, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found, “Men who have had sex with men since 1977 have an HIV prevalence 60 times higher than the general population, 800 times higher than first-time blood donors and 8,000 times higher than repeat blood donors.”
Even so, under heavy pressure from the Obama White House and the pro-MSM lobby, the FDA has been experimenting with statistical models to find “a way forward” for MSMs to donate blood. So far, the FDA finds that reducing the waiting period from the current 37 years to five-years would mean MSM blood donors would add 300 units of HIV-positive blood to the nation’s blood supply and reducing the waiting period to 12-months would add 1,600 units of HIV-positive blood to the nation’s blood supply.
Testifying before the HHS panel, Dr. Jay Epstein, director of the FDA’s Office of Blood Research and Evaluation said, “We should be cautious about tampering with success that has come with great effort.”
Interestingly, the panel made its recommendations to protect the “civilian” blood supply from HIV/AIDS at a time when the Obama White House and the Democrat-controlled Congress are trying to force MSMs into our volunteer armed forces where the most immediately available supply of fresh, whole blood on the battlefield is carried in the veins of the soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen doing the fighting. That’s why every military ID tag shows the wearer’s blood type. The purpose is to quickly match the blood type of the wounded to the blood type of those giving blood.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban already see HIV as a weapon. On June 9, 2010, Britain’s The Sun reported that Taliban fighters are placing HIV-contaminated needles around improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to prick British bomb squad members as they try to disarm the Taliban’s IEDs.
Meanwhile, the HHS panel’s non-binding recommendations now go for review by an assistant secretary of HHS. If not discounted at that level, the recommendations enter the FDA’s regulatory process which, of course, is subject to comments from both pro-MSM and anti-MSM interest groups.
The higher an issue goes for review within the Executive Branch, the more it becomes subject to decisions made by political appointees who, perforce, are more likely to conform to the desires of the Obama White House than to the views of the scientists on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability.
While the “military” blood supply issue has received scant attention from the main-stream media, the HHS panel’s recommendation with regard to the “civilian” blood supply could have a bearing on what happens to Mr. Obama’s drive to open the military to MSMs.
Nationally syndicated columnist and combat veteran, William Hamilton, is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and a former Research Fellow at the U.S. Army War College.
©2010. William Hamilton.