AABB session explores blood-donation deferral policies

Oct. 19, 2021

Policies governing blood donations from men who have sex with men have been changing in numerous countries. These have included reduced deferral times, alternative criteria to assess risk of HIV infection, or the elimination of the policies altogether. An educational session at AABB’s virtual annual meeting explored this topic.

The session was presented by Sheila O’Brien, Assistant Director of Epidemiology and Surveillance, Canadian Blood Service; Katy Davidson, UK Health Security Agency (formerly Public Health of England); Mindy Goldman, Canadian Blood Services; and Brian Custer, VP of Research, at Vitalant and Adjunct Professor, Laboratory Medicine, UCSF.

The speakers traced the evolution of deferral policies and research to evaluate potential alternative screening questions to determine a donor’s risk of HIV infection. Some questions ask about sexual risk behaviors, such as having new partners and doing drugs while having sex. Questions about condom use were found to be unreliable. Some centers are also now screening for the presence of antiviral antigens, such as PrEP/PEP.

In the United Kingdom specifically, a new a new donor eligibility process was implemented this summer in which all blood donors — regardless of gender — are asked about recent sexual activity. Similarly, in Italy and Spain, MSM are no longer addressed in deferral policies; instead, the deferral policies are based on alternative criteria, according to a news release from AABB.

In the United States, the MSM deferral was reduced from “if even one time since 1977” to 12 months in 2018; it was reduced further – to three months – last year. Currently in the United States, the Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility (ADVANCE) study is ongoing and is designed to evaluate behavioral screening questions. The results will help determine if alternative deferral policies are feasible, AABB said in a news release.

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