Sudbury researcher says blood donation questions 'racist,' unfairly target gay men

The questions that need to be answered by potential blood donors are personal and extensive — and one Sudbury researcher says they are also racist.
A Sudbury researcher has received a grant to have a closer look at questions asked by Canadian Blood Services to potential donors. (Josh Vogt (CBC))

The questions that need to be answered by potential blood donors are personal and extensive — and one Sudbury researcher says they are also racist. 

Dr. OmiSoore Dryden will have a closer look at blood donor questionnaires and how they can be improved. The assistant professor of women's, gender and sexuality studies at Thorneloe University received a $400,000 grant to further study the topic.

The funding is through Canadian Blood Services, which in turn received it from the federal government.

"When I engage the donor questionnaire, I'm thinking about communities that are impacted by a number of questions," Dryden said.

"In my research I look specifically at African, Caribbean and Black men who have sex with men."

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Outdated attitudes

Dryden says she feels the questions contain some racist language and outdated attitudes towards the gay community.

"We look to decide and identify what are the best ways to predict if people in our community, men who have sex with men, are HIV negative and therefore perfect and ideal to be blood donors," she said.

Researcher and associate professor at Thorneloe University, OmiSoore Dryden wants to see changes to blood donation screening. (Thorneloe University)

Dryden says she's heard from gay men who want to donate blood, but can't under the current rules.

"It's not men who have sex with men that will negatively impact the donor system," she said.

"It's unsafe sex practices. Lots of people could participate in unsafe sex practices."

Dryden said she also wonders why the countries Togo and Cameroon are specifically singled-out on the questionnaire.

"Why do they keep targeting Africa? Canadian Blood Services has a lot justifications, what they would call justifications, on why they would  target Africa, even Health Canada has justification why they would target Africa," she said. 

"I would say those justifications are false, and actually racist." 

Reviewing policies and procedures

The president of Thorneloe University said he's pleased a Sudbury professor will lead the research.

"We commend the Canadian Blood Services for recognizing the important contribution that our faculty can make when reviewing an organization's policies and procedures," Dr. Robert Derrenbacker said.

According to Canadian Blood Services, the two year study aims to "generate evidence to guide modifications to the current Canadian Blood Services' donor criteria and questionnaire."