Canadian Blood Services (CBS) has received approval from Health Canada, the federal department responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health, to reduce the current deferral period for blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM) from indefinite to five years. CBS is a not-for-profit, charitable organization whose mission is to manage the blood and blood products supply for Canadians. According to CBS, the change will be implemented this summer, allowing time for the agency to adjust its screening procedures. Blood donor screening will now ask potential male donors whether they have had sex with a man in the past five years rather than the current wording, ”even once, since 1977.” The change means that any man who has not had sex with another man in the last five years and meets other screening criteria may be eligible to give blood.
CBS has been actively pursuing data to inform a policy change on MSM for several years. After conducting risk analysis and extensive consultation with scientific experts and with patient and community groups, CBS submitted a policy change request simultaneously with Héma-Québec to Health Canada in December 2012.
“We recognize that many people will feel that this change does not go far enough, but given the history of the blood system in Canada, we see this as a first and prudent step forward on this policy,” said Dana Devine, PhD, VP of Medical, Scientific and Research Affairs at CBS. “It’s the right thing to do and we are committed to regular review of this policy as additional data emerge and new technologies are implemented.”
Internationally, there is no consensus on MSM blood donations. Some European countries and the US maintain lifetime bans. The United Kingdom and Australia, on the other hand, have switched to a one-year deferral, while other nations have different policies.
The US federal government currently has multiple studies underway, the results of which will yield hard evidence to help determine if a continued ban on blood donations for MSM is still warranted. Since 1977, blood donations from MSM have been indefinitely deferred because of the much greater risk in these groups of transmitting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B. According to the Canadian AIDS Society, MSM “account for approximately 56% of all cases of HIV/AIDS cases in Canada and 45% of all new infections.”
Source: CBS news release dated May 22, 2013