Health Canada authorized a submission from Canadian Blood Services to eliminate the current three-month blanket donor deferral period for all sexually active men who have sex with men, and instead screen all donors, regardless of gender or sexuality, for high-risk sexual behaviours. Under the new screening approach, Canadian Blood Services will introduce a sexual behaviour-based donor-screening questionnaire that will apply to all donors of blood and plasma.
Canadian Blood Services has indicated it expects to implement the new donor screening approach by September 30, 2022.
Health Canada’s authorization is based on a thorough assessment of evidence supporting the safety of the revised donor screening. To help inform its review, Health Canada convened a group of scientific and medical experts knowledgeable in the field of blood safety for a one-day meeting, which took place April 13, 2022, to seek input on specific technical questions.
Today’s authorization is a significant milestone toward a more inclusive blood donation system nationwide, and builds on progress in scientific evidence made in recent years. Over the past decade, Health Canada has authorized several changes to the donor deferral period for men who have sex with men, from a lifetime restriction to five years in 2013, to one year in 2016 and to three months in 2019.
Under the Blood Regulations, Canada’s two blood operators—Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec—are required to make submissions to Health Canada for any changes to their processes, such as changes to donor deferrals. Canadian Blood Services operate in all provinces and territories except for Quebec, while Héma-Québec operates in Quebec.
Health Canada, as the regulator responsible for overseeing the safety of Canada’s blood system, remains steadfast in its commitment to supporting blood and plasma donation policies in Canada that are safe, non-discriminatory and scientifically based.