Saving lives, maintaining safety, and science-based policy: qualitative interview findings from the Blood Donation Rules Opinion Study (Blood DROPS)

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Indefinite deferral from donation for any man who discloses having had sex with another man even once since 1977 (MSM77) is the US FDA's standing policy. This qualitative component of the Blood Donation Rules and Opinion Study was designed to provide insight into the perceptions and practices of current or previous donors with MSM history.


Forty human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-negative MSM completed an online survey, indicating that they had donated blood and were willing to be interviewed. Semistructured, individual interviews with these key informants covered donation experience and motivations, perceptions of MSM77, policy change preferences, and possible impact of a change to a time-limited deferral. Transcripts were coded deductively and inductively, following a modified Grounded Theory approach. Analysis identified recurrent and divergent themes.


Ninety-five percent of participants endorsed modifying MSM77. Preferred deferral length ranged from none to 5 years; a common opinion was that a science-based deferral period would be less than 1 year. Other policy change recommendations included incorporating questions about specific HIV risk behaviors to the donor questionnaire for all potential donors. Interviewees recognized HIV infection rates are higher in MSM than the general US population, but participants considered themselves low-risk for HIV, donated blood “to save lives,” and justified their recommendations as being more effective ways to identify donors at risk for HIV.


Results suggest that MSM donors are concerned with blood safety; they can be appealed to as such. Communications about a new deferral policy should include scientific explanations and acknowledge altruistic motivations of potential donors.

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