1. What is the Canadian Blood Services current policy on blood donation from men who have sex with men?
“Men who have sex with men are now eligible to donate blood one year after their last sexual contact with another man,” says the Canadian Blood Services website.
2. How does that policy compare to other countries?
- United States
– currently banned
- United Kingdom and Australia
– 12-month deferral period; men who have not had sex with a man in 12 months are eligible (source)
– blood donations banned “from people with HIV or hepatitis and their partners and people who engage in “risky sexual practices” regardless of their sexual identity” (source)
- South Africa
– donors are required to lead a “sexually safe lifestyle” regardless of sexual orientation. Anyone who has had a new sexual partner in the last six months, or anyone who has multiple partners will be deferred 6 months (source)
Other countries which do not have deferral policies for men who have sex with men include Chile, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Thailand, and Uruguay.
3. Why is the policy in place?
Prior to 2013, a complete ban on donations from men who had had sex with men had been in place since the 1980s. “Hundreds of Canadians were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through blood transfusions in the 1980s before rigorous tests were implemented” (source).
The policy had not been updated since that time, in spite of scientific advances which make it faster and more accurate to test blood donations for HIV and other infectious diseases. The 5 year deferral which is currently in place is intended to allow data collection on the occurrence of infections disease in blood donations. “The data would be used to regularly review the policy and amend it as appropriate” (source).
4. How is the policy enforced?
Blood services first and foremost must ensure that all blood received for donation is safe for transfusion purposes. This is achieved by screening potential donors for high risk behaviours through questionnaires and interviews before blood is taken, and subsequent laboratory testing on samples of donated blood.
Men who have had sex with another man within one year regardless of lifestyle or safe sex practises are automatically deferred.
5. How does the CSU feel is this policy discriminatory?
This policy is discriminatory because it plays into stereotypes about the nature of HIV disease and the groups it affects. This policy reinforces the early belief that HIV is a ‘gay man’s disease’ when in fact, it affects people regardless of orientations who engage in risky, unprotected sex and/or other high risk activities were bodily fluids can be exchanged (i.e. sharing needles).
Data collection is an insufficient reason to defer men who have sex with men. Dr. D Devine, vice-president of medical, scientific and research affairs at Canadian Blood Services, acknowledged that Canadian Blood Services does not anticipate that the 5-year deferral “will bring a large number of gay men forward to the blood-donor pool”, which calls into question the value of the data which is being collected (source).
6. How does the CSU feel the policy can be improved?
Methods of testing for diseases such as HIV have significantly improved since the ban was put into practise. Blood services should implement rigorous testing of blood/organs and extensive questionnaires on donors’ medical history and sexual history regardless of sexual orientation. It would be more effective to focus on individuals and their lifestyles rather than excluding an entire demographic.