2014 Blood Donor Art Project at 2014 Union Ballroom Blood Drives:
What makes you want to donate blood today?
Our goal for this project is to create inclusivity at blood drives. Although not everyone is eligible to donate, our hope is to visually demonstrate all of the reasons that people want to give blood. This will be replicated at several drives throughout the Blood Battle competition against Ohio State in November. At the end of the competition, we will assemble all of the individual pieces of fabric into a large display, which will then be representative of all potential donors and their motives behind being present at blood drives.
Through this project, we cannot see the reasons why people are unable to give blood, but rather that they are united by goals, ambitions, and personal stories about donating. This will educate the campus community about the importance of blood donation, while hopefully raising awareness of blood donation and encouraging inclusivity of all healthy donors in the process.
We want to acknowledge that, due to blood donation eligibility requirements set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), not everyone will be able to donate. While all of our drives aim to provide an inclusive atmosphere for everyone, the drives held during the last week of Blood Battle in the Union Ballroom will be specifically designed to raise awareness about the FDA's current policy which bans all men who have had sexual contact with another man (MSM) from donating blood for life. We encourage anyone affected by this policy to attend these drives.
Bleeding for Equality
Under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's current policies that govern blood donation, any male who has had sex with another male (MSM) since 1977 is permanently banned from donating blood. This policy dates back to 1983 when some patients being treated for hemophilia started displaying AIDS-related symptoms after receiving routine blood transfusions. The FDA did what it could at the time: ban the group of people most likely to spread the HIV virus. Today, MSM remain the group most heavily affected by HIV in the U.S., estimated to represent approximately 63 percent of new HIV infections each year.
While the MSM population has been linked to a higher prevalence of certain diseases including HIV, blood testing efficacy and methods have greatly improved since 1977. It is estimated that the HIV transmission risk from a unit of blood has been reduced to about one per two million units of blood. Every pint of blood collected in the United States is now tested for at least eight different diseases?including HIV, HTLV, hepatitis B and C, West Nile virus, Chagas disease, and syphilis. The health history questionnaires and blood tests may not seem adequate independently, but they represent some of the several layers of screening methods that exist to further reduce the risk of transmitting diseases. These methods must continuously be improved in order to increase the safety of the blood supply.
While the intention of the current policy is to identify risky behavior, the reality is that it is discriminatory and inadequate. The current health questionnaire used during the prescreening process before donation singles out those who identify as MSM while failing to address other risky behaviors among individuals of all sexual orientations, such as unprotected sex, anal intercourse, and having multiple sexual partners. The FDA considers risky behavior to be associated with MSM as an entire social identity, which is why it is included in the behaviorally based questions. Although the MSM population is at a greater risk for HIV, there are low-risk individuals who identify as MSM who should be allowed to donate if they otherwise meet the eligibility criteria of the FDA.
BDU is taking action to create greater public awareness about the policy and the need for reevaluation of donor eligibility criteria. It is our hope that revised prescreening questions can serve to defer high-risk individuals but allow for the inclusion of low-risk individuals without an explicit focus on sexual orientation. BDU seeks to educate students, faculty, staff, and community members about the policy and build support for a broad movement addressing this injustice by providing a productive way for all to participate.