Canadian Blood Services (CBS) has expanded the eligibility of some men who have sex with men to donate plasma at its donation clinics in Calgary and London, Ontario.
In these two cities, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men can donate plasma, the yellowish fluid in which blood cells are suspended, if they have not had a new sexual partner in the last three months and their sexual partner current. you have not had sex with anyone else in that time, CBS said in a statement Tuesday.
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This is a bit more permissive than current guidelines for donating blood. Below them, men can only donate blood if their last sexual contact with a man was more than three months ago.
The locations were chosen because they can accept plasma donations, which not all clinics do, and because of the existing relationships between Canadian Blood Services and local LGBTQ2 organizations in those regions, a CBS spokesperson told Global News.
Canadian Blood Services describes this as “a step forward” towards more inclusive giving. The organization previously promised that it will request that Health Canada eliminate the waiting period for men who have sex with men and switch to behavioral-based screening for all donors before the end of the year.
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The new plasma donation process for this group of donors is not straightforward. Canadian Blood Services says Health Canada requires it to place a 60-day hold on all plasma donations from men who have sex with men.
What this means is that a new donor who passes the exam will leave a donation of plasma at the clinic. This sample will be tested for a variety of blood-borne diseases including syphilis, hepatitis B and C, and HIV. Then, at least 60 days later, you can return to provide a second donation. At that time, if the second donation is also negative, both plasma samples will be sent for processing and transformation into products that can be used by hospitals.
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Each subsequent donation from this man will be subject to a 60-day suspension before being released for use, Canadian Blood Services spokeswoman Catherine Lewis told Global News.
Plasma was specifically chosen for this program because it is easier to expand donor eligibility under current rules, he said.
“The source plasma is used to make drugs,” he wrote in an emailed statement. “The manufacturing process for these drugs involves complex steps that apply to a large number of plasma donations, and in this process, potential pathogens are removed from the plasma.
“This added security process and our ability to freeze and retain plasma for up to one year makes it possible to expand eligibility for plasma donation sooner than we can for other blood products.”
However, he said, Canadian Blood Services does not view this program as a pilot project, as it hopes that the donation rules will change soon to make this process unnecessary. First, the organization has to demonstrate that this is safe.
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Canada’s blood donation eligibility remains a contentious issue, with critics and opposition members pushing the government to deliver on its promise to roll back the restrictions.
The deferral period has been shortened three times in the last eight years. Before 2013, there was a lifetime ban.
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Nathan Lachowsky, associate professor at the School of Public Health and Social Policy at the University of Victoria, welcomed the change, but said more work is needed to move towards a “gender-neutral approach.”
“Although the change … is positive and promising, it still continues to perpetuate a system that treats men who have sex with men differently from the rest of the population,” he told Global News.
According to the most recent data from Health Canada, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men accounted for 49.5 percent of all new HIV infections in 2018, despite accounting for roughly three to four percent of the Canadian adult male population.
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Allowing men who have sex with men in Calgary and London to donate plasma gives CBS an opportunity to collect data on these new donors that can help affirm future changes, Lachowsky said.
“What we know from decades of HIV research is what specific behaviors are most likely to transmit HIV and we know that most gay men will not get HIV,” he added.
“So this is a step to allow safer donors to participate in the blood system. “
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Several countries have removed or changed their screening criteria for donating blood in recent years, including Italy, Portugal, and Mexico.
In June, the UK implemented a behavior-based policy that will allow gay, bisexual and MSM to donate blood, plasma and platelets without a deferral period.
By contrast, policy in the UK considers that all donors, regardless of sexual orientation, are asked whether they had sex and, if so, about recent sexual behaviors. People who have had the same sexual partner for at least three months can donate, regardless of their orientation.
Canadian Blood Services declined to say what exactly its new screening criteria will be, but promises to present them before the end of the year.
“Our goal is to eliminate the current waiting period specific to men who have sex with men and to use sexual behavior-based screening for all donors, at all of our locations, and for all blood products,” Lewis said.
– with files from Sean Previl of Global News
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