The students association at Carleton University in Ottawa has voted to uphold a ban on blood clinics on campus space it controls because of a policy forbidding gay men to donate blood.

Blood clinics are allowed on campus areas not run by the students association, but a ban is in place at the university centre building because many members oppose the Canadian Blood Services (CBS) policy.

The organization maintains the rule is meant to protect the national blood supply by screening out people it considers to have a high risk of HIV infection.

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Sarah Cooper was one of the Carleton University students who voted to uphold a ban on blood clinics on space run by the students association. (CBC)

Some council members argued the Canada-wide CBS policy, which was first approved in 1983, is both outdated and discriminatory.

It is currently under review, CBS officials have said, as they are putting together the first-ever request to Health Canada to change the policy.

There was opposition to the Ottawa campus ban, though, which led to a very close vote Monday evening. Students association member Gina Parker argued it is more important to save lives than make a political point.

"Someone had to challenge it and ask questions," she said.

Other members also said lifting the ban would allow the association to simultaneously promote blood donation and lobby to change the screening policy.

LGBT, blood services working together

CBS recently met with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and other stakeholders to discuss limiting the ban on donating blood for gay men to just five to 10 years after the sexual act, the organization’s spokesman, Ron Vezina, has said.

Some groups of people not allowed to give blood:

  • People who have taken money or drugs for sex since 1977.
  • All men who have had sex with another man, even once, since 1977.
  • Those who have had intravenous use of illegal street drugs/narcotics.
  • If your diabetes is treated with insulin.
  • Donors with a medical history of chronic fatigue syndrome
  • People who have lived in certain regions of Africa, who may have been exposed to a new strain of the virus that causes AIDS.

Vezina added there is more to consider than simply donor prejudice.

"Given the history of the blood system, we have to be very cautious and we must remember that recipients who are infused with blood products bear 100 per cent of the risk — it’s not the donor," he said last week.

Vezina also said CBS hopes to submit the policy change request this fall to Health Canada.

The organization uses nucleic acid testing (NAT) to screen for HIV. The sensitive test detects low levels of a virus’s genetic material present at the time of infection and before the body produces antibodies in response to a virus.

All donated blood is screened for HIV, along with other infectious diseases, including syphilis, and hepatitis B and C.