Nfld. & Labrador

Gay men could fill need for blood donations: activist

A Newfoundland activist says some gay men would fill the need for blood in Atlantic Canada, if only they were allowed to donate.

Men who have had sex with men in past year still barred from donating

Noah Davis-Power is a former president of St. John's Pride. (CBC)

A Newfoundland activist says some gay men would rush to blood clinics and help fill Atlantic Canada's need for donations — if only they were allowed to donate.

There are enough gay men in Newfoundland and Labrador and across Atlantic Canada to have a real impact on the region's blood supply, according to Noah Davis-Power, a former president of St. John's Pride.

"I think that you'd fill that … deficit in donor spots in an hour if you lift the MSM (men who have sex with men) ban," he claimed. "There are MSM here, gay men, who will gladly roll up their sleeves to give."

Under rules set by Canadian Blood Services (CBS), men who have had sex with men in the past year are not allowed to donate blood.

That exclusion is among a list of other exclusions by Canadian Blood Services — but it is one of the most controversial.

Davis-Power believes CBS already has the tools to reduce the risk of accidental HIV infection to an acceptable rate, if it switched its screening questions to focus more on risky behaviours like unprotected sexual activity, or activity with multiple partners.

According to a Public Health Agency fo Canada report in 2015, about 54 per cent of new HIV infections are attributed to men having sex with men.

All blood donations are tested, however CBS says there is a period where HIV infections cannot be detected — and no test is 100 per cent.

CBS said in a statement that it was working with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community and other stakeholders to research if it is possible to move away from the current screening approach, but it also defended the current prohibitions.

"To protect the safety of patients who rely on blood products for treatment, we often have to make difficult decisions, based primarily on scientific evidence of risk, about who can and cannot donate blood," CBS wrote.

Davis-Power says the current one-year abstinence policy is discriminatory.

"If I was [eligible], I'd roll up my sleeve and walk in right now to fill one of those … spots that are in deficit," he said.

"If you removed this ban, I assure you that across Canada you would see MSM from the LGBT community come forward in droves, because like I said, we want to help." 

Canadian Blood Services added in a statement that "one in two Canadians is eligible to donate, but only one in 60 will."