Man who had sex with a man - Change to the eligibility criterion for giving blood starting June 3, 2019

Montréal, May 8, 2019 – Health Canada has responded favorably to requests submitted by Héma-Québec and the Canadian Blood Services and reduced the temporary exclusion period for donating blood for man who had sex with a man (MSM). Within a few weeks, the 12-month exclusion will be reduced to a period of three months following the last sexual contact between a man and another man. This change will apply both in Québec and in the other Canadian provinces.

Since August 15, 2016, men who want to give blood have been asked the following question: “Have you had sex with another man in the past 12 months?” The men who responded yes to this question were excluded from giving blood for 12 months following the last sexual contact.

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 2016.

“It has been demonstrated that implementing a 12-month temporary exclusion in 2016 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 and Innovation at Héma-Québec.

The announced change is based on an analysis that revealed that there will be no increased risk to the safety of blood products intended for transfusion. The possibility of transmitting HIV by transfusion is extremely low at present, namely 1 chance in 23 million in Québec, and the announced change will not alter this risk in any significant way.

The criterion change approved by Health Canada will be implemented on June 3, 2019 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 today in men who have had sexual relations with other men. The prevalence of HIV is near 15% in this group, compared to less than 1% in heterosexuals or lesbians.

Why impose a temporary three-month exclusion?

The safety of the blood supply system is paramount. The Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada, held following the contaminated blood scandal, recommended that the principle of safety take precedence over other principles and policies. Recent experience has shown that the change announced today will not increase the risk. A three-month temporary exclusion is based on scientific findings.  

About Héma-Québec

Héma-Québec’s mission is to efficiently meet the needs of the Québec population for quality blood and other biological products of human origin. Héma-Québec encompasses 1,300 employees and nearly 225,000 blood, stem cell, mother’s milk and human tissue donors, in addition to thousands of blood drive volunteers. Each year, Héma-Québec delivers some 750,000 human biological products to Québec hospitals to meet the needs of patients.

Give blood. Give life.

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Original text in French. In the event of a discrepancy between the English and French versions, the latter will prevail.