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Gay blood donors criteria relaxed, says BHB

Policy review: BHB consultant haematologist Eyitayo Fakunle said the new approach has been effective in the US

Men who have sex with men will now be able to donate blood in Bermuda, according to the Bermuda Hospitals Board.

Relaxing the outright ban to a one-year deferral period after the last sexual contact will bring Bermuda in line with other countries, consultant haematologist Eyitayo Fakunle said.

“The indefinite deferral period policy of MSM for blood donation at the Blood Donor Centre, Bermuda Hospitals Board, has been reviewed and will now change to a one-year deferral period after the last sexual contact,” he told The Royal Gazette.

“This decision was reached on June 28, 2016. This moves Bermuda into alignment with other countries that have reviewed this policy.”

The indefinite deferral period for MSM donors was changed to a one-year deferral period in the United States in December last year.

The UK, Australia, New Zealand and France have also lifted outright bans in favour of time-based deferral.

Since 2013, Canada has implemented a five-year deferral period for MSM donors and according to the Canadian Blood Services, will be changing this to a one-year deferral period on August 15.

Dr Fakunle said that the ban on MSM donors was put in place in Bermuda a few months after the US Food and Drug Administration recommended in September 1985 that they should be deferred indefinitely because of “the strong clustering of AIDS illness and the subsequent discovery of high rates of HIV infection in the MSM population”. “The use of donor educational material, specific deferral questions, and advances in HIV donor testing have greatly reduced the risk of HIV transmission from blood transfusion,” Dr Fakunle said. He added that the policy of a time-based deferral since last sexual encounter “has been demonstrated to be effective in the United States and all around the world”.

According to Dr Fakunle, data from the US suggest an increase in the proportion of blood donors reporting MSM behaviour from 0.6 per cent in 1993 to 1.2 per cent in 1998.

“The qualitative responses by both donating and non-donating groups of MSM in the United States revealed that these individuals view the current policy as discriminatory and stigmatising, and that some individuals knowingly donate despite the deferral,” he said.

Dr Fakunle said organisations around the world had “expressed strong support for the change to one year, which brings MSM donor deferral criteria into alignment with deferral periods for activities posing a similar risk of transfusion-transmissible infections”.

But he added that the indefinite deferral period for commercial sex workers and those who inject illicit drugs had not been revised.

Dr Fakunle said: “On April 23, 1992, the FDA issued the 1992 Blood Memo, which contained recommendations regarding the deferral for MSM as well as for other persons with behaviours associated with high rates of HIV exposure, namely commercial sex workers, those who inject illicit drugs, and certain individuals with other risk factors.”

He added that commercial sex work and injection drug use are behaviours that “continue to place individuals both at a relatively high risk of HIV infection and at a relatively high risk of window period transmission of HIV”.