The Food and Drug Administration, seeking an alternative to its policy of barring blood donations by people from Haiti or sub-Saharan Africa, is considering a recommendation that all recent U.S. immigrants be prohibited from giving blood.
The proposal, first reported yesterday by States News Service, is among options that FDA officials are considering in response to charges by Haitian and African groups that the current system is discriminatory.
Paul Parkman, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said agency officials believe prohibiting all recent immigrants from donating blood for a period of time after their arrival might be viewed as fairer than singling out specific groups.
"Maybe some people would think we're substituting one form of discrimination for another," he said. "It isn't in any way our intention to discriminate against people. At the same time, we're concerned about the safety of the blood supply."
The current guidelines reflect the fact that epidemiological studies have found high rates of infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in Haiti and in some sub-Saharan African countries. Although donated blood is tested routinely for antibodies to the virus, blood from recently infected individuals does not always test positive because antibodies can take weeks or even months to develop.
Parkman said criticism of the guidelines has intensified in recent months, particularly from the Haitian community. "We didn't understand the depth of their feeling, but we sure do now," he said.
The guidelines are used by the Red Cross and other blood-banking organizations to screen donors. In April, an FDA advisory committee urged the agency to develop recommendations that would not single out people from individual countries or ethnic groups.
Parkman said other proposals being considered include improving questionnaires administered to blood donors, translating them into foreign languages and determining whether individuals who test positive for other blood-borne viral infections, such as hepatitis, have a high likelihood of being infected with HIV, which causes AIDS.
He said he had been told some European countries prohibit recent immigrants from donating blood for two years after arrival.
He said the agency has no deadline for revising the recommendations. "We're still working on it," he said. "It's a tough problem."