U.S. Urges Use of Blood From Military

U.S. Urges Use of Blood From Military

July 6, 2001 The New York Times by Raymond Hernandez

As it moves to restrict blood donations from people who might have been exposed to mad cow disease in Europe, the federal government is shaping a compromise plan to alleviate any blood shortages that the new donor restrictions might cause in the New York City area.

The plan calls for the United States military to ship surplus blood from its bases abroad to the New York metropolitan region, where medical officials fear the new donor restrictions will worsen the existing blood shortage and force hospitals to cut back on a variety of surgeries.

The donor restrictions were proposed by the Food and Drug Administration because concerns over tainted blood have risen in recent months with the spread of mad cow disease across Britain and, to a lesser degree, the rest of Europe.

The restriction would be issued nationally, but experts say the New York region would be the most adversely affected because it is the only place in the country that imports blood from Europe.

Blood bank officials in New York have scrambled to find new sources of blood, as the F.D.A. considered imposing the donor restrictions as early as next spring.

The compromise is being floated by aides to Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which has authority over the F.D.A, according to officials inside and outside government. It was outlined to New York health officials this week, a few days after an advisory panel for the F.D.A. recommended that the agency adopt more stringent donor restrictions.

Mr. Thompson apparently supports the F.D.A.'s desire to protect the blood supply but he is also mindful of the problems that might arise in New York, say people who have monitored the issue. Campbell Gardett, a spokesman for health and human services, would not comment on the plan.

"The secretary has indeed been very concerned and very involved in this question," Mr. Gardett said. "His object is to protect the blood supply. But that includes having an adequate blood supply available."

Blood bank officials in New York said they were heartened to learn that Mr. Thompson's office was taking an active role in brokering a compromise.

"It's very encouraging," said Dr. Robert L. Jones, president of the New York Blood Center, the main supplier of blood for 200 hospitals in New York City's five boroughs, Westchester and Rockland Counties, Long Island and northern New Jersey.

Kenneth E. Raske, the president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, said, "I'm glad they're struggling to find a solution because the implication of the donor ban is a disaster for the patients of New York."

The plan endorsed by the F.D.A. advisory panel last week calls for excluding blood donations from anyone who has spent five years or more in Europe since 1980, or three months or more in Britain from 1980 to 1996.

Health care experts said that they expected the recommendations to be adopted as early as next spring.

The policy could cause major disruptions in medical care in the region, where one in every four pints -- 145,000 pints a year -- is imported from Holland, Germany or Switzerland.

The New York State health commissioner, Dr. Antonia C. Novello, has warned that as many as 200 surgeries or other treatments could be postponed if the F.D.A. implements it as soon as next spring.

The compromise under consideration would almost completely make up the deficit New York would face under the proposed donor restrictions. It would allow the New York region to import roughly 140,000 pints of surplus blood annually from military bases in Europe, according to government and health care officials.

Experts familiar with the compromise say such bases would provide a reliable source of blood for two reasons: personnel would not necessarily be excluded from donating under the restrictions, and recruitment drives are often more effective in the military than in the general population. The plan would require the approval of the military.

The plan would also delay the F.D.A.'s donor restriction until late 2002, giving health care officials in New York the time they say they need to adjust to the changes, these official said. The proposal being considered by the Department of Health and Human Services also calls for a $1 million appropriation from Congress to help start the program, according to people familiar with the plan.

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