Pritzker Students Appear on WTTW

Over the past week, two Pritzker students have appeared on WTTW, Chicago's PBS affiliate, to highlight important issues in health care. 

Rising second-year Pritzker student Christian Carrier appeared on WTTW's Chicago Tonight program on Monday to once again advocate for a change to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy that prohibits men who have had recent sexual contact with other men from donating blood. A few days earlier, rising second-year student Frank Medina appeared on the same program as part of a"Latino Voices" segment highlighting that Latino men are least likely among all ethnic groups to seek out necessary health care.

Carrier first pushed for a change to the FDA policy, which he characterizes as "outdated and homophobic," in a Chicago Tribune op-ed in January. His appearance this week came as part of WTTW's story highlighting the continued blood supply crisis in the U.S. despite some recent improvement.

The FDA policy currently restricts men who have had sexual contact with men in the past three months from donating blood. That deferral period is much shorter than the previous one-year ban (and permanent ban before that), but Carrier said it still unnecessarily excludes people who want to help address blood shortages.

“It doesn’t allow for potentially men that are in monogamous relationships, it bars men that are engaging in safe practices from donating blood despite how much they would want to help,” Carrier said. “And I think that by not allowing these people to donate, I think it also puts a little bit of social stigma on the community as well. By having this rule it looks at the queer community and says, ‘We don’t’ trust you enough to be able to donate blood.’

"Although there are so many queer health care providers that are trusted to do all this amazing work for patients, they can’t do something as simple as donating blood.”

The FDA's policy was implemented in response to the HIV/AIDS in 1985, a time when blood screening technology was not sufficiently reliable. It was revised in 2015 to allow this group of men to donate blood if they had abstained from sexual contact with other men for one year. It was revised again in April 2020 in response to critical blood shortages and reduced donation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with male donors now needing only wait three months after sexual contact with another man to donate blood.

Carrier, a current co-leader of the OUTPatient LGBTQ+ student group at Pritzker, began challenging the FDA policy after an op-ed writing workshop in the first-year course "The American Healthcare System," directed by Dr. V. Ram Krishnamoorthi and Dr. Greg W. Ruhnke, last year. Dr. Shikha Jain of the University of Illinois-Chicago led the workshop and also appeared in WTTW's story, agreeing the FDA policy is outdated.

Medina's appearance on WTTW came as part of a segment ahead of Father's Day, and he appeared as a representative of Latinos United for Cancer Education Research and Outreach (LUCERO), a Latinx cancer control task force at UChicago Medicine's Comprehensive Cancer Center. He shared that the lifetime probably of developing cancer among Latino men is about one in three.

"There are differences among what types of cancers are prominently affecting Latino men," Medina said. "Specifically liver cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer. ... Looking at liver cancer, while rates are similar among Latino men compared to their white counterparts, in the United States Latino men are more likely to die from liver cancer."

Medina, who is community outreach co-chair for the Pritzker chapter of the Latino Medical Student Association, further highlighted that environmental inequities can contribute to increased health risks in Latinx communities.

"If you look at maps of air pollution in our communities across Chicago--mainly on the Southeast Side, West Side, parts of the North Side, and of course the South Side--and then you look at maps of distributions where Latino people live, those two maps overlap with each other" Medina said. "So you see higher rates of asthma in those communities, higher rates of COPD, issues that affect your lungs."

Medina also promoted LUCERO's Men's Health and Family Resource Fair taking place on Saturday, June 25th at the Chicago Family Health Center in recognition of Men's Health Awareness Month.