Blood services will soon recommend asking donors about their sexual activity, not their orientation

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OTTAWA – Male blood donors will no longer be asked if they have had sex with another man, but – along with women – will in future be asked if they have had multiple sex partners and anal sex .

Canadian Blood Services says it plans to submit its recommendation to end the ban on gay blood to Health Canada within two weeks.

Dr. Isra Levy, vice president of medical affairs for Blood Services, told the organization’s board meeting on Friday that his submission will state that sexual behavior, not sexual orientation, determines the risk of HIV transmission.

Levy said he will recommend that men who donate blood no longer be asked during the screening process if they have had sex with another man.

“If the submission is approved, we can focus donor selection on high-risk sexual behaviors. Specifically, the change would allow us to stop asking men if they’ve had sex with … any other man,” he said.

The evidence was now “overwhelming that this change … will not compromise safety in any way”, he said.

The blood service said it had safety evidence from risk modelling, its own research program and international research, including from the UK.

He said the Canadian Blood Service had been in weekly contact with the British Blood Service, which has already ended its ban on gay blood.

The Canadian Blood Service plans to recommend to Health Canada that screening questions be changed to UK guidelines to end discrimination against gay men who want to donate blood.

Currently, men who volunteer to donate blood are asked if they have had sex with a man in the past three months. Women wishing to donate are asked if in the past three months they have had sex with a man who in the past 12 months has had sex with another man.

If proposals from blood transfusion services are approved, potential donors, both male and female, will be asked whether they have had new or multiple partners instead. If they answer “yes”, they will then be asked if they have had anal sex, which carries a higher risk than other sexual activities of transmitting HIV.

Levy said blood transfusion services had done extensive modeling and the new criteria would allow HIV testing “regardless of gender or sexual orientation” while protecting the safety of the blood supply.

He said safety remained “paramount” and that “blood safety would not be compromised by our proposed approach”.

Canadian Blood Services tests all donated blood products for viruses and diseases, including HIV, but the tests may not be 100% accurate. Screening is an important part of limiting risk to blood recipients, according to the agency’s website.

Currently in Canada, a gay man who has had sex with only one partner in the past three months cannot donate blood, but a straight man can, even if he has had sex. with several partners during the same period.

The government has said it wants to speed up the process to end the gay blood ban. Health Canada is expected to make its decision in the spring of next year.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 3, 2021.

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