Man who had sex with man - Change to the Blood Donor Eligibility Criterion effective July 22, 2013

Montréal, May 22, 2013 – Responding favourably to the requests of Héma-Québec and Canadian Blood Services, Health Canada has approved a change in the permanent blood donor exclusion criterion for a man who had sex with a man. In a few weeks, the permanent exclusion will be changed to a temporary one and will apply to Quebec and all other Canadian provinces.

For several years now, men donating blood have been asked the following question: “Have you had sex with a man, even once, since 1977?” Men who answered yes to this question were permanently excluded from giving blood. The change approved by Health Canada will shorten this exclusion period to five years from the last time that a man has had sex with another man.

“Recent scientific data and advances in transfusion safety led us to review the exclusion of men who have had sex with another man. This change is scientifically justified and will in no way endanger the high degree of safety of blood products,” underscored Dr. Marc Germain, Vice-President of Medical Affairs at Héma-Québec.

The announced change is the result of a risk analysis that shows that shortening the exclusion period presents no increased risk to the safety of blood transfusion products. The possibility of transmitting HIV through a blood transfusion is extremely low today (approximately 1 in 30 million in Québec) and it will remain at the same low level after the change is implemented.

The change approved by Health Canada will come into effect on July 22. The delay in implementing the change is necessary in order to allow suppliers of blood products to adapt the methods they use to determine the eligibility of a potential blood donor.

Why will there still be an exclusion period for a man who had sex with a man?

Héma-Québec’s main priority is the safety of both the donor and the recipient. For this reason, some people may be temporarily or permanently excluded from giving blood for various reasons.

In keeping with the opinion of the vast majority of transfusion safety experts, Héma-Québec considers that it is legitimate and necessary to exclude certain groups from donating blood that are at risk of infections that can be transmitted through transfusion.

The frequency of HIV transmission among men who have had sex with other men (MSM) is still higher today than in the general population. The prevalence of HIV is more than 10% among MSM, compared with less than 1% among heterosexual men or lesbians.

Why a temporary exclusion of 5 years?

The safety of the blood supply remains paramount. The Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada, which was formed in the wake of the contaminated blood scandal, recommended that the principle of safety take precedence over all other principles and policies. The fact is that, inherent in the blood supply system, is the possible emergence — at any time — of new pathogens (i.e. viruses, bacteria) that are transmitted through transfusion. Some groups — especially those that represent transfusion recipients — were concerned with the possibility that men who have had sex with another man were at higher risk for these emerging infections. Given this possibility, the five-year exclusion period helped to reassure these groups of our ability to implement measures to protect the blood supply from such a risk.

About Héma-Québec

Héma-Québec's mission is to efficiently provide adequate quantities of safe, optimal blood components, substitutes, human tissues and cord blood to meet the needs of all Quebecers; to provide and develop expertise along with specialized and innovative services and products in the fields of transfusion medicine and human tissue transplantation.

Give blood. Give life.

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