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Canadian Blood Services to review blood ban

Reexamining the policy to 'no less than five years'

On Oct 19 Canadian Blood Services (CBS) announced it would reexamine its policy that excludes men who have had sex with men (MSM) from donating blood. The CBS board of directors has approved a motion to reexamine its policy to reduce the ban to between five and 10 years.

The new policy will mean that any men who have had sex with men, or who have engaged in any risk behaviour, within the specified time frame (five to 10 years) will not be allowed to donate blood.

In an email to Xtra on Nov 1, Ron Vezina, the director of communications for CBS, states that there are three factors in restricting the ban to a minimum of five years: there is no international scientific consensus on a favourable deferral period for MSM; a risk analysis conducted by the McLaughlin Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment suggested a one-year deferral could introduce additional risk to the blood system, and Canada’s history of tainted blood is very different than the UK’s.

In November the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood will be lifted in the UK. In its place there will be a 12-month deferral period where men who have had anal or oral sex during that time will not be allowed to give blood.

Vezina writes that the board sees the move to review the policy as the first step in lifting the lifetime ban against gay men donating blood. He says that the board will continue to review the “timing of deferrals and other considerations related to this policy as new data or technology emerge.”

CBS will conduct research over the next few months with input from several groups, including donors, patient groups, recipients, the heads of various lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans advocacy groups, as well as community members.

“In the past, our own LGBTTQ working group has helped us understand, explore and communicate on this issue. We will be tapping into the expertise of specific group members to identify participants for the consultation, understand the environment and communicate respectfully and effectively,” writes Vezina.

He also states that Egale, the Canadian Federation of Students and the Canadian AIDS Society will be invited to participate in the consultation process although they will not be part of the working group. CBS plans to have committees at both the regional and national level to ensure the public has input into their decision-making.

CBS will ask Health Canada to have the MSM deferral changed by March 2012 after it has collected data and received input from various stakeholders.