Canadian Blood Services considers reducing donation policy that affects gay men

U.S. Consulate employees give blood at a Toronto clinic as part of President Obama’s National Day of Service.

U.S. Consulate employees give blood at a Toronto clinic as part of President Obama’s National Day of Service. (US Embassy Canada/Flickr)

Last month, Canadian Blood Services launched a public survey addressing the possibility of a change in blood donation restrictions.

As the agency’s policy stands, men who have had sexual contact with another man (MSM) within the past five years are not eligible to donate blood.

An email statement from CBS says: “A further reduction may be possible in the future and must be rooted in scientific evidence, Canadian statistics and the data we are currently collecting.”

The survey, conducted through Canadian research company Ipsos Reid, says that CBS “may consider further reducing the time frame of the deferral to one year.”

The survey is also not immediately available on the CBS website, nor has it been shared through the organization’s social media, like Twitter or Facebook.

The only reason the matter found its way to The Ryersonian‘s attention was because the survey was making social media rounds within Toronto’s LGBTQ community, yesterday.

Previously, the MSM blood ban was lifelong, though in 2013 it was changed into a deferral period on blood donations involving men who have had sex with a man any time in the past five years.

“We understand not being able to donate blood, for any reason, may be upsetting,” the statement from CBS reads. “The MSM policy is rooted in current statistics and scientific evidence and is not based on sexual orientation.”

However, the ban does affect any sexually active gay man, as well as women who have had sex with a MSM.

This development comes at the same time as reports that the CBS blood supply is at a “critical low,” though the service notes that the survey on their MSM policy “is not a reflection of Canadian Blood Services’ current appeal for blood donors.”

The statement from CBS notes that any policy change needs to be approved by the organization’s regulator, Health Canada.

The MSM policy is not the only restriction on blood donations. Other factors, like health issues, medication, travel and high-risk behaviours disqualify other potential donors.

Following the peak of the HIV/AIDS crisis in North America, the organization, then known as the Canadian Red Cross, introduced an official MSM policy.

Today, the Public Health Agency of Canada’s 2012 surveillance report, based on new reports of HIV/AIDS submitted throughout Canada, says that the number of new cases was at a record low, at 2,062 reports.

MSM accounted for a little more than 50 per cent of positive HIV test reports in adults.

Despite this fact, CBS notes at the beginning of the still ongoing survey that every unit of blood is tested, and a change in policy to a one-year deferral “would not introduce additional risk to the blood system.”

The Ryersonian continues to follow this story.

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