Canadian AIDS Society Proposes Solution to Update and Enhance the Safety of Canada's Blood Screening Survey
OTTAWA, ON (Marketwire) -- The Canadian AIDS Society (CAS), will be appearing as a Friend of the Court in the Freeman case, which began on Monday, September 28 and contests the constitutionality of the Canadian Blood Services' lifetime deferral on gay men and men who have sex with men. In this role, CAS will propose an amendment to update the Canadian Blood Services' screening questionnaire, with a desire to improve safety and gain community support for the Canadian blood system.
"The current discriminatory wording of the screening questionnaire needs to be updated. With new, highly accurate HIV testing, it is no longer scientific, as American blood banks have acknowledged with respect to their own similar policy. It's eroding confidence in the blood system, which turns away many youth and gay men who are not at risk of HIV at a time when Canada's blood supply is in need of donors," says Douglas Elliott, the Canadian AIDS Society lawyer. "The questionnaire is not scientifically valid, which compromises the safety of the system by encouraging self-screening and inciting boycotts on blood donation based on human rights principles."
CAS is suggesting a long overdue change to one question of the current survey directed to male donors which reads: "Have you had sex with a man, even one time since 1977?" Presently, if prospective donors respond yes to this question, they are banned for life from donating blood. However, a deferral of only one year is imposed on women who have had sex with a bisexual man in the last 12 months, even though such women are at the same risk as men who have sex with men.
The proposed change would read: "Have you had sex with another man in the past 5 years?" If the response is "no," they would be treated like any other donor. If yes, they would respond to a further question: Have you had unprotected anal sex (i.e., without a condom) with more than one male partner in the last 12 months. If the response is "yes," they would receive a 12 month deferral. If "no," they would receive a 6 month deferral.
Monique Doolittle-Romas, Canadian AIDS Society Executive Director explains, "We want to ensure that the blood system is safe. The change that we are proposing will focus on risk behaviour, rather than risk groups. It's a minor alteration which modernizes the screening process, while ensuring the safety of the blood supply and winning back community support. A strong, safe blood system is in the interest of all Canadians, including CAS and people living with HIV."
Since the appearance of HIV in the 1980s, AIDS service organizations in Canada have been working at the forefront of ensuring the safety of Canada's blood supply. They have educated about sexual responsibility and voluntary self-exclusion from blood donation by men who have sex with men. This proposal attests to their continued efforts to improve the system.
Blood service organizations in Australia, Japan, Argentina, and Hungary all have one-year deferral policies similar to the one CAS is proposing. A similar recommendation is also being made by three American blood service organizations in the United States. In Spain and Italy there are no restrictions on gay men giving blood. And, in Russia last year, blood bans on gay men were ended because they were unsupported scientifically. Since the adoption of these new measures, no resurgence of HIV transmitted by transfusion has been reported in these countries.