We might not think about it very often, but we blink a lot — as often as 1,200 times an hour. That’s a quick shutter of our eyes about every three seconds.
Every two seconds, according to the American Red Cross, someone somewhere in the United States needs blood.
To keep up, our nation’s blood banks require upward of 40,000 blood donations every day. But lately, we’ve struggled to keep up. The blood supply in the United States is at almost historic low levels, as a result of a perfect storm of waning interest among young people and the coronavirus pandemic. The need, however, hasn’t relented, so getting out and donating a pint is more important than ever.
But so is compelling the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to adopt scientifically based screening to keep the blood supply safe and stop stigmatizing gay men.
Before 2015, if you were gay, you could never donate blood. It's a byproduct of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s since this demographic was more likely to introduce HIV into the blood supply.
It's no longer a lifetime ban. Now it's just three months from the last time one man slept with another. The FDA says this is the best way to reduces HIV-tainted blood slipping into the supply, but it doesn't have to be that way.
The Human Rights Campaign — a national organization championing LGBTQ rights — says by doing this, the FDA doesn’t treat people with similar risks the same way. The restriction isn’t just on gay men who engage in risky behavior, like unprotected sex.
Instead it applies to any gay man, even if he is monogamous and practicing safe sex.
But straight men or women with multiple sex partners, or who are taking part in otherwise unsafe practices, aren’t restricted.
To make it even worse, the FDA lumps gay men in with two other automatic disqualifications: people who have used illegal drugs with needles, and those who have traded sex for money or drugs.
The FDA has proven itself to be extraordinary in testing blood supplies with a high degree of accuracy. There must be a better way to counter risk factors without turning away entire groups of people, painted with a broad brush.
Washington must change this archaic policy, because it's vital everyone who can donate, does donate.
A single donation helps save not just one life, but three. Imagine that. Spend less than an hour of your time, endure a slight needle prick and you’ll make a difference for three others.
Medical facilities can extract four different beneficial components from the blood: red cells, plasma, platelets and cryoprecipitate — the last helps blood clot.
More than a third of donated supplies are used to treat cancers and blood diseases. Other major beneficiaries of blood donations include patients suffering from anemia, those in surgery, those with heart and liver disorders, and orthopedic patients.
Just about anyone can donate blood, according to the New York Blood Center, as long as you’re at least 17 — 16 with parental permission — weigh at least 110 pounds, and are in generally good health. There’s no maximum age, but those older than 75 need a doctor’s clearance.
There are some restrictions. If you have traveled anywhere in the world where malaria is a problem, you must wait three months. If you get a piercing or a tattoo, it’s also three months — unless the procedure took place in a sterile environment, or, in the case of a tattoo, it was done by a licensed facility in New Jersey.
Syphilis or gonorrhea? Three months. Blood transfusion? Also three months. Pregnancy, abortion or miscarriage? Six weeks post-pregnancy.
Despite all that, believe it or not, most people can still donate. And you should.
Visit the New York Blood Center at www.NYBC.org. Call to make an appointment at (800) 933-2566.
Or visit a local blood center. You can find them on the blood center’s website — and there is one nearby, at 290 Sunrise Highway in Rockville Centre.
Every time you blink, let it be a reminder that someone, at that moment, is being told they need blood. Do your part by donating the gift of life today.