Men Who Have Sex With Men – Modification to the eligibility criteria for donating blood as of August 15, 2016

Montréal, June 20, 2016 – Health Canada has responded favourably to requests submitted by Héma-Québec and Canadian Blood Services and has reduced the temporary exclusion period for donating blood for men who have sex with men (MSM). Within a few weeks, the 5-year exclusion will be reduced to a period of 12 months following the last sexual contact between a man and another man. This modification will apply both in Québec and in the other Canadian provinces.

Since July 22, 2013, men who want to give blood have been asked the following question: “Have you had sex with another man, even once, in the past 5 years?” The men who responded yes to this question were excluded from giving blood for 5 years following the last sexual contact. It should be noted that this 5-year prohibition followed the revision of the criteria that imposed a permanent exclusion in the past.

Good news: Héma-Québec has not noted any increase in the prevalence of HIV or syphilis — infections that are transmitted sexually and are more common in the MSM group — since the criteria was changed in 2013.

“It has been demonstrated that implementing a 5-year temporary exclusion in 2013 had no impact on the safety of the transfusion system. As a result of recent data concerning transfusion safety, the exclusion policy applied to men who have had sex with another man could be reviewed. Such a change is scientifically justified and will not endanger the very high level of safety of blood products,” said Dr. Marc Germain, Vice-President of Medical Affairs at Héma-Québec.

The modification announced is based on an analysis that revealed that there will be no increased risk for the safety of the blood products intended for transfusion. The possibility of transmitting HIV by transfusion is extremely low at present, namely 1 chance in 30 million in Québec, and the modification announced will maintain that probability.

The criteria modification approved by Health Canada will be implemented on August 15, 2016, for all blood collection activities. This time is required to enable the suppliers of blood products to adapt to the various measures in place to determine the eligibility to give blood.

Why is the exclusion of men who have had sex with a man maintained?

Héma-Québec gives priority to the safety of both the donor and the recipient. Thus, certain individuals may be excluded on a temporary or permanent basis for various reasons.

Along with a very large majority of most experts in transfusion safety, Héma-Québec believes that it is legitimate and necessary to prohibit blood donation on the part of certain groups that are at risk for transmitting infections through transfusion.

The frequency of HIV infection remains much higher among men who have had sexual relationships with other men. The prevalence of HIV is more than 10% in this group, compared to less than 1% in the case of heterosexuals or lesbians.

Why impose a temporary 12-month exclusion?

The safety of the supply system is essential. The Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada, held following the contaminated blood scandal, had recommended that the principle of safety takes precedence over other principles and policies. Recent experience demonstrates that the change announced today will not increase the risk. The 12-month temporary exclusion is based on scientific findings. It is supported by the groups that represent people who receive transfusions. It also takes into account the experience of other countries with similar practises in managing the blood system, specifically Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden.

About Héma-Québec

Héma-Québec’s mission is to efficiently meet the needs of the Québec population for safe, optimal-quality blood and blood products, human tissues, cord blood, mother’s milk and cellular products; and to develop and provide expertise and specialized, innovative services in the field of human biological products. Héma-Québec encompasses 1,300 employees, over 300,000 donor visits to blood drives per year, 16,000 volunteers and more than 500,000 blood products delivered annually to Québec hospitals to meet the needs of patients.

Give blood. Give life.

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