Canadian Blood Services is taking the first steps to allow gay and bisexual men who have sex with men (gbMSM) to donate blood plasma in two test cities, Calgary, Alta., and London, Ont.
It’s the first time that the agency is opening donations up to gay and bisexual men, years after many have called a prohibition on their donations discriminatory.
“We’re excited to welcome more members of the gbMSM community into our London and Calgary plasma donor centres,” Dr. Graham Sher, CEO of Canadian Blood Services, said in a statement. “This is an important step toward our goal of removing the waiting period for gbMSM donors and using sexual behaviour-based screening for all donors instead.”
In Calgary and London, men who have sex with men are now eligible to donate source plasma if they have not had a new sexual partner in the last three months, and if their partner has not had sex with another partner.
Canadian Blood Services quietly made the announcement on its website on Tuesday. Plasma is the straw-coloured liquid component left when blood cells are removed from whole blood. It contains nutrients and immune molecules like antibodies, and donations can be done more frequently than blood donations.
Men who have had sexual contact with another man in the last three months are still not eligible to donate blood. The agency says its hoping to apply to Health Canada by the end of 2021 to have that criteria removed, moving away from a blanket ban to a screening process instead that asks about sexual behaviour, as it does for other donors.
Demand for plasma surging
“Men are able to donate source plasma every week at our London and Calgary donor centres. Plasma donated by gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men in London and Calgary will be made into plasma protein products when the donor comes in at least 60 days later with a plasma donation that tests negative for infectious diseases,” Blood Services said in a statement.
“Plasma protein products are specialized medicines that are made from plasma to treat a variety of rare, life-threatening, chronic, and genetic conditions. The 60-day return donation and testing is a requirement from our regulator Health Canada.”
Demand for plasma products is surging in Canada and around the world. It is used in a variety of treatments for rare, life-threatening, chronic and genetic conditions.
For years, Canadian Blood Services has come under fire for not allowing men who have sex with men to donate blood, a practice many call homophobic. The agency did not say when it would expand the current plasma donation ability to other centres beyond London, Ont., and Calgary.
“We understand that being turned away from donating can leave any donor with a sense of frustration and disappointment. We recognize that eligibility criteria for men who have sex with men is a particularly sensitive issue affecting many who have experienced longstanding marginalization and stigma,” the agency wrote in a statement.
“We also recognize that the slow pace of changes to donor criteria that still exclude many gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men has been painful and frustrating for many, and we are working to create a more inclusive system.”