Across Canada

In May, Canadian Blood Services received approval from Health Canada to reduce the current men who have sex with men (MSM) deferral period from indefinite to five years from the last MSM activity. The change was implemented on July 22.

Internationally, there is no medical consensus on blood donor screening practices for MSM. Some countries in Europe and the United States maintain lifetime bans. The UK and Australia have moved to a one-year deferral and others have different practices altogether.

“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,” says Dr. Dana Devine, VP of medical, scientific and research affairs at Canadian Blood Services. “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.”

Blood donor screening has been changed to ask potential male donors whether they have had sex with a man in the past five years rather than “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.

Canadian Blood Services has been actively pursuing data to inform a policy change on MSM for several years. In September 2011, the Canadian Blood Services board of directors passed a motion committing to re-examine this policy, with a view to reduce this lifetime exclusion to no less than five years and no longer than 10 years.

After conducting more risk analysis and extensive consultation with scientific experts and with patient and community groups, Canadian Blood Services submitted a policy change request simultaneously with Héma-Québec to Health Canada in December of 2012.